(The Center Square) — Revenues from the Pennsylvania school district property tax have steadily climbed since 2011, but the growth rate has declined since 2017. In the near future, that will change.

The latest report from the Independent Fiscal Office shows that school districts collected about $15.7 billion in fiscal year 2020-21, up from $14.8 billion in 2019-20.

“Collections increased by $3.10 billion from FY 2011-12 to FY 2020-21, an average rate of 2.6 percent per annum,” the report noted.

Without the pandemic, collections would likely have been higher, but almost half of school districts kept their tax rates flat. In a normal year, only 25 percent of districts would do so.

Despite recent declines in the growth rate of collections, the IFO forecasted a bright future for school districts. Those revenues depend on the rate of tax increases, property assessments, and economic growth. The wealthier a locality gets, the wealthier the school district becomes. While the IFO expects a modest 2.5 percent growth in 2021-22 to about $16 billion, it expects at least 4 percent growth in the next five years, and almost 5 percent growth in 2024-25.

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By 2026-27, the IFO expects districts to collect just under $20 billion annually.

The counties that pay the most in per capita revenue sit in the east, while the counties that pay the least tend to be in the rural west and center. 

The state weighted average is $1,209 per county, but Monroe County has a per capita revenue of $2,089 and Montgomery County’s rate is $2,035. On the opposite end, Jefferson County’s per capita rate is just $422 and Cambria County’s is $423.

With tax rates kept flat during the pandemic in more districts, many residents will see increases as a result. While the IFO forecast expects delinquent collections to increase, most of the growth will come from the usual property tax collections.

Reassessments will also matter. In Pennsylvania, counties determine when to reassess property rates, and some places can go several years or decades without doing so. 

In places like Allegheny County, reassessments can be a surprise for new homeowners and school districts often request them, as The Center Square previously reported. A lawsuit appealing assessments in Allegheny County could bring relief to some property owners, showing how controversial property tax changes can be.

The result can have a significant impact on property tax collections. While they provide more revenue for schools, they must come at the expense of taxpayers.

Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.

This article was republished with permission from The Center Square.

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