A panel ruled Feb. 1 that the towers are real estate.
HARRISBURG (AP) -- In a ruling that could guarantee millions of dollars in additional tax income for Pennsylvania counties, schools and municipalities, Commonwealth Court has ruled that cell towers can be taxed as real estate.
The ruling came out of a court battle that started in Dauphin County, where officials said that 165 towers valued at $14 million generate $80,000 a year in taxes.
In 2001, the county decided to tax all cellular towers and their supporting pads as improvements to real estate. Shenandoah Mobile Co. and Shenandoah Personal Communications, both of Virginia, appealed to Dauphin County Court, arguing that the towers are personal property, not real estate.
A judge ruled against the companies, which appealed to Commonwealth Court. A three-judge panel ruled Feb. 1 that the towers are real estate.
Carl Risch, an attorney for the companies, said the state cell tower owners already pay sales tax on income they generate by renting space for antennas because they are considered personal property.
"We just think it's unfair. Either we are real estate or personal property," Risch said.
Mark Mateya, an assistant solicitor for the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, said the decision will help statewide.
"If there's one overriding reason, because every county has its own rulings and it's own tax rules, it appears the law is beginning to settle down and there's some certainty on this issue," Mateya said.