LOWER MERION TWP., Pa. --The Lower Merion School District has been ordered to revoke its latest tax increase.
Officials are accused of over-taxing residents, accumulating surpluses in the tens of millions of dollars.
It's well known that the district's schools are among the top rated in the state. In fact, it was the main reason Colleen Tsarnas and her family packed up their stuff and moved from north Jersey.
"We researched good schools in the region, and Lower Merion came up time and time again as one of the best schools in the state," she said. "Taxes were reasonable and that's why we moved here from north Jersey area."
But Attorney Arthur Wolk, a Lower Merion Township resident, got suspicious after the latest tax hike, which he considered to be unreasonably high.
"Every time they told the citizens they needed a tax increase it was a lie and I uncovered that and I presented that evidence to the court," he said.
Wolk says it took a lawsuit to uncover what he says are repeated lies from the Lower Merion School District regarding its budget for the past several years. The lawsuit was prompted by a nearly five percent tax increase for 2016-2017, the latest in a series of tax hikes since 2008.
"I noticed that over the years the tax increases for school taxes were incredibly large, so I started to inquire about it and I realized that the school district was overstating their expenses, and understating their revenue, and therefore they were getting tax increases when they didn't need the money," he said.
This week a Montgomery County court ordered the Lower Merion School District to revoke its tax increase after it found the district deliberately overestimated budgets and lied about a deficit when, in fact, it had a multi-million dollar surplus.
"In the last 10 years school taxes alone have increased 53 percent. That, to me, seemed an outrageous number," said Wolk.
"I'd like to see the numbers, and I also think quite clearly the judge was saying this behavior, without saying it specifically, this is unethical. I almost wonder if it's criminal," said parent Elizabeth Preate Harvey.
Officials with the district wouldn't go on camera, but sent a statement saying in part:
"If the court's decision stands, the financial health of the LMSD and districts across the state is in jeopardy. In Lower Merion, recent enrollment growth has exceeded projections and the impact on staffing and facilities planning has been significant and unexpected."
District officials say they will appeal the decision.
LINK: Letter to the community from the LMSD