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Lag in tax receipts has officials concerned

by SAM KUSIC skusic@indianagazette.net on November 21, 2013 10:55 AM

BLAIRSVILLE — Questions are beginning to arise over whether Blairsville Borough’s newly elected tax collector is fulfilling the duties of her office.

Borough officials and Blairsville-Saltsburg School District administrators are reporting that property tax receipts are lagging by collectively more than $600,000 compared with the same time in prior years. Meanwhile, some residents have complained that payments aren’t being processed on time.

At a council meeting on Tuesday, borough manager Tim Evans said tax receipts are off by $81,000.

“We’ve never been that far behind,” he said.

Evans, in fact, has been telling council over the past several months that collections have been lagging.

At the school district, tax receipts are off by about $556,000, according to Eric Kocsis, the school district’s business manager.

“It hurts us cash flow-wise. There’s no doubt about it,” Kocsis said.

One resident, Michael Parr, of Bentley Drive, told council on Tuesday that it took roughly six weeks for his property tax payment to be processed. He said his wife mailed the payment in late September, but it didn’t post to his bank account until Nov. 5.

He said his neighbors have complained of the same thing.

Those payments, he said, should be processed within a day or two of being received.

“The failure to deposit checks in a timely manner … is a failure to perform the duties of the office,” he told council.

But tax collector Carol Tarasovich vigorously denied that she is sitting on checks.

“I haven’t held anybody’s check. I have no reason to,” she said.

She said that it stands to reason tax receipts are lagging because she didn’t take office until February.

Council appointed her that month to succeed retired tax collector Joan Baker, who was in the last year of her four-year term. Tarasovich, who also runs a bookkeeping and tax preparation business, won out over 12 others who sought the appointment. She later entered the race for a full four-year term of her own and won, having been unopposed in the primary and the general elections.

Her new term begins in 2014.

But as for this year, Tarasovich said she didn’t get up and running until April. So at this point, she has had seven months to do the same job that Baker would have had 11 months to do at this point in time, she said.

Tarasovich said she didn’t recognize Parr’s name and couldn’t speak specifically to his case. But she said there have been instances in which people have signed and dated a check, but then allowed a period of time to elapse before mailing it.

She said she processes payments in a timely manner and by order of postmark.

Parr, a retired bank examiner with the U.S. Treasury Department, called on council to audit her office. He said that during his days as an examiner, he and his colleagues always took it as a red flag when they saw delays in the processing of checks. That, he said, was a signal to investigate further.

He made it clear he is not accusing Tarasovich of malfeasance. And he said an audit would help assure the public that nothing improper was occurring.

Tarasovich said Parr was insinuating that she’s doing something improper and bristled at the suggestion.

“I built my business on my honesty and integrity,” she said, adding that she would welcome an audit. And an audit is coming — tax collectors are audited after the end of every year, she said.

“My records are meticulous.”

It wasn’t only Parr who complained of delays in payment processing, however. Councilwoman Carolyn Smith said she, too, has heard similar complaints from residents. The same goes for borough council President John Bertolino.

“We are looking into this and trying to get it resolved,” he said.

Evans said he was planning to meet with Tarasovich today to discuss the matter. Koscis said the district will be represented at the meeting as well.

Tarasovich confirmed that the meeting is to take place, but said she understood that it was being called to discuss an unrelated matter.

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