The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has agreed to hear the Lower Merion School District's appeal of a lower court decision that said the district could not impose a 4.4 percent tax increase on residents for the 2016-17 school year.
Last spring, a three-judge panel of Commonwealth Court dismissed an appeal in the district's battle with three residents who sued over what they called excessive tax bills, which had increased 53.3 percent since 2006. They maintain that Lower Merion misrepresented how much money it had in reserve and claimed deficits that didn't exist in order to impose a tax increase that exceeds what the state allows.
"Obviously we're extremely pleased," Kenneth A. Roos, the district's solicitor, said of the Supreme Court's decision.
In August 2016, Montgomery County Judge Joseph Smyth ordered the district to cut the tax increase for 2016-17 year to no more than 2.4 percent. In his ruling, he noted that the 8,400-student district – one of the wealthiest in the state – had falsely projected annual multimillion-dollar deficits since 2010, though it had accumulated a $42.5 million surplus.
Lower Merion's appeal was dismissed not on the merits but because the appeals court said the district failed to meet the 10-day deadline for filing post-trial motions after Smyth's ruling.
Roos said the Supreme Court will consider an appeal of that procedural issue, not the whole case, he said. The district maintains that post-trial motions were not required and were actually inappropriate, said Roos.
However, in an email, Arthur Wolk, a lawyer from Gladwyne who is one of the three who brought the suit, said, "If I were the Lower Merion School District I would not be bragging about the Supreme Court's taking the appeal. The Supreme Court denied the appeal on the merits."
"If it had believed there was something wrong with Judge Smyth's decision and order, they would have taken that, too," he said.
He also said that regardless of what the Supreme Court does with the case, "the finding of illegal tax increases now for 13 years stands."