By Pamela Sroka-Holzmann | The Express-Times The Express-Times on September 04, 2013 at 6:00 AM, updated September 04, 2013 at 5:29 PM –
And it’s all on YouTube.
Robert Fernandes, a father of three, moved to Forks Township a year ago from Warren County, seeking lower property taxes for a larger home that could also house his elderly parents. Fernandes commutes to work as an IT manager for a company in Bedminster Township, N.J., while his wife home-schools the children, ages 7, 4 and 1.
Fernandes says he got a great deal on a short sale when he bought his home, but his annual property taxes total nearly $10,000. Reached by phone Tuesday, Fernandes said he doesn’t want to pay $7,143 in school taxes.
“We don’t even use the public system, yet I am being forced to pay all this money into a public school system,” he said. “I don’t think that’s really either fair or just or even ethical.
“It would be the equivalent if McDonald’s were to force vegetarians to pay for their cheeseburgers.”
Easton Area School District interim Superintendent John Reinhart did not immediately return a phone call and email seeking comment.
In a visual aid displaying how much he spends on the school district, Fernandes turned up Aug. 27 at the Forks Township tax office with stacks of hundreds of singles. He says on the YouTube video captured by friends that most taxpayers lump their annual taxes into their monthly mortgage payment and never get to see in dollars how much they pay.
‘I wanted … a visual’
“I wanted to create a visual; they don’t get to actually … see exactly how much taxes is being stolen from them,” Fernandes, who visited the tax office with his family and three friends, says on the Internet video. “And I am using the word stolen because I’m not here voluntarily paying this money to anybody. I’m here because I fear for the threat somebody will come and take my house away from me if I don’t pay this.”
The Forks tax collector, Anne Bennett-Morse, reminded Fernandes the school board votes on the school budget, not the municipality. Fernandes told Bennett-Morse he didn’t mean to be difficult and provided municipal employees with two dozen doughnuts for any inconvenience.
“It needs to be seen — this is $7,143.54 of my hard-earned money,” Fernandes goes on to say. “It’s pretty tough to me to part with this. I can think of better uses for this money than to give it to some service I don’t use.”
Fernandes said if he retires by age 50, it would cost him an estimated $400,000 in property taxes if he stayed in his home until age 90. As an alternative, he favors a free marketplace for education.
When Bennett-Morse asked if they could go to a nearby bank to have the money counted, Fernandes states on the video, “I think it says a lot that they can’t even count this large amount of money here. They expect me to work hard for it and other people to work hard for their money, but they can’t even count it in the place that they collect it.”
Bennett-Morse said Tuesday she had no issue counting the money at the tax office but didn’t want to inconvenience the family and a growing line of taxpayers behind Fernandes waiting to pay their bills — via check. She said this is the first time in her tenure anyone paid their bill in single dollars or change.
Forks Supervisors Chairman Erik Chuss said residents with concerns should bring them to elected officials, attend public meetings or run for office themselves.
“This isn’t about politics. This is about morality. This is about ethics,” Fernandes said, adding he hopes the YouTube footage hits home with viewers. “I’m hoping people see this video and do the same thing: stop paying in their escrow and mortgage and start paying taxes the way I did.”
He said he is passionate about various issues. In 2011, he launched Lemonade Freedom, which supports children operating lemonade stands. Last year, he helped gather donations for Christmas presents for a homeless shelter in Philadelphia.