Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County in the case of Richard H. Lundy, Jr., t/d/b/a Old City Hall Partnership v. City of Williamsport, Lycoming County, and Williamsport Area School District, No. 86-01694.
Douglas N. Engelman, with him, Richard H. Lundy, Jr., Roesgen, Larrabee & Brown, for appellant.
Norman M. Lubin, Casale & Bonner, P.C., for appellee, City of Williamsport.
J. David Smith, McCormick, Reeder, Nichols, Sarno, Bahl & Knecht, for appellee, Lycoming County.
Nathan W. Stuart, for appellee, Williamsport Area School District.
Judges Palladino and Smith, and Senior Judge Barbieri, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Senior Judge Barbieri. Judge MacPhail did not participate in the decision in this case.
[ 120 Pa. Commw. Page 521]
Richard H. Lundy, Jr., t/d/b/a Old City Hall Partnership (Appellant) appeals the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County sustaining the preliminary objections of the City of Williamsport, Lycoming County and Williamsport Area School District (Appellees). We hold that the trial court was correct in dismissing Appellant's equity complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
In 1982, Appellant purchased a building from the City of Williamsport known as Old City Hall which was advertised as having LERTA benefits. LERTA stands for Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Act (Act), a program enacted pursuant to the Act of December 1, 1977, P.L. 237, as amended, 72 P.S. §§ 4722-4727, by which municipalities may pass an ordinance exempting from real estate taxes improvements made to existing structures or new construction. Under Section 6 of the LERTA Act, 72 P.S. § 4727, persons desiring tax exemptions must apply to the local taxing authority which then assesses separately the improvements made in order to determine the amount of the exemption. Appeals from such reassessments may be taken by the taxpayer or local taxing authority as provided by law. Prior to 1982, the City of Williamsport had enacted a LERTA
[ 120 Pa. Commw. Page 522]
Ordinance which stated that appeals were to be taken to a LERTA appeal board.
The City of Williamsport's LERTA Ordinance provided that notice of the LERTA application requirements must appear on any building permits issued. In fact, Appellant received a building permit with LERTA stamped in the corner but no application notice or instructions on the permit. Appellant received a letter from the City treasurer informing him that he would receive LERTA benefits and his initial tax bill was calculated with a LERTA exemption. Appellant relied on the representations of the City that he was entitled to LERTA benefits and never filed an application for exemption as required by both the LERTA Act and the City's Ordinance. In November of 1983, after Appellant had made substantial improvements to the property, the City informed him that LERTA benefits would be denied because Appellant had never filed an application.
Appellant then filed an application, which was denied, and appealed to the LERTA appeal board. By decision dated April 26, 1985, the appeal board denied Appellant's application as untimely filed. Two further appeals to the board were also denied on January 14, 1986, and March 25, 1986. Appellant did not appeal these denials to the trial court. Instead, on September 15, 1986, Appellant filed this instant equity action seeking to compel the City to award him LERTA benefits on the grounds of equitable estoppel. The County of Lycoming and Williamsport Area School District filed a demurrer to Appellant's complaint asserting that a local government agency could not be estopped in a tax matter. Commonwealth v. Western Maryland Railway Co., 377 Pa. 312, 105 A.2d 336 ...