KULPMONT - Several borough landlords gathered Wednesday as part of an organized effort to fight a $120 per unit rental property "tax."

Kulpmont officials call it a fee, but group leader Steve Matzura said past court cases of a similar nature call it a tax.

"If the income generated is relative to the costs of collection and supervision, it's a fee," Matzura said. "If it collects more revenue than costs, it's a tax."

Matzura spoke to about 10 fellow landlords at the Cantina Stampina social club as part of their fight against the fee that was changed in May from $100 per landlord to $120 per unit.

"Out of the 1,554 properties in Kulpmont, 210 of them are rental units, owned by 72 landlords," Matzura said. "They are trying to justify the cost of a full-time code enforcement officer, but not at our expense."

"Maybe this is how they are paying for a new building," one landlord said.

"We've heard that," Matzura answered.

All in attendance agreed Wednesday that landlords, especially those who live out of the area, need to unite in the cause.

$500 per month?

The landlords took issue with figures presented in December by borough council member Steve Motyka when several landlords came before Kulpmont Borough Council in protest of the fee. That effort pushed back the enforcement of the fee to March, and placed all funds collected in escrow until the matter is settled.

Council's figures stated the amount of the fee is based on landlords getting an average of $500 per month per property, which generates a yearly combined gross income of $1.26 million for them.

With a $120 rental fee for each of the 210 units, the rental property fee would generate $25,200, about two percent of the gross income for landlords.

"I've never heard of anyone charging taxes on gross income; it's always adjusted," one landlord said.

"First off," Matzura said, "no property, unless its a full home, generates $500 a unit in monthly rent. Take into the fact that collected rents help landlords pay utilities, upkeep, property taxes and in some cases, mortgages, renting properties is a tough investment."

Matzura said he has spoken to several council members who were in agreement with them, but someone on council needs to step up.

"From what we've been told, some members are on our side, but no one can agree on the number," Matzura said. "Someone needs to have the guts to step up and make a stand."

The group has been filing right-to-know requests, preparing to defend themselves before a magistrate because many plan to refuse to pay the fee in protest.

They are preparing out-of-town mailings, hoping to add to the number of those who support their efforts.

"We hope we can get the out-of-town landlords on our side," Matzura said. "If we lose the fight, we all lose, but if we win, we all win."