Review faults tax official
January 15, 2014 10:54 AM
by SAM KUSIC

BLAIRSVILLE — Auditors examining the Blairsville Borough tax collector’s office found disorganized and incomplete records, unreconciled bank accounts, and more than $268,000 in undeposited tax payments, some of which dated to August.

What the auditors didn’t find, however, is sufficient information to rule out the possibility of misappropriated money.

The findings are contained in a summary report prepared by Johnstown accounting and auditing firm Wessel & Co., which reviewed tax collector Carol Tarasovich’s records at the behest of the borough and Blairsville-Saltsburg School District.

The borough and the school district, along with Indiana County officials, had commissioned the review over numerous complaints from residents and mortgage companies that tax payments weren’t being processed in a timely manner and on concerns about lagging tax receipts.

School district officials, for instance, say the district’s receipts are roughly $289,000 below where they should be.

Tarasovich has vigorously denied there is anything amiss in her office, and this morning she disputed the auditor’s findings, again asserting that the review was motivated by politics.

“My records were meticulous,” she said. “Everything they’re writing is lies. There’s nothing off. There’s nothing odd.”

The auditors, however, would disagree.

Among the findings, the auditors:

• Counted 43 deposits that do not have corresponding ledger sheet entries identifying who made the payments contained within the deposits.

“Without the supporting documentation, it is unknown who paid their taxes or when the taxes were paid,” the auditors wrote.

• Said $31,364 in tax payments were found to have been received and deposited into the bank accounts, but the amounts were not forwarded to the entities to which they belonged.

• Said Tarasovich wasn’t reconciling bank statements, based on check registers in the checkbooks.

“The check registers did not include all deposits and checks paid. Several notations were made stating a bank balance ‘as per bank conversation,’” the report says.

• Reviewed more than 50 complaints from taxpayers related to tax bills that were never received, payments that were never deposited, and payment receipts that were never issued. The auditors said some closings on real estate deals had to be delayed due to a lack of response from Tarasovich.

• Found $268,015 in undeposited checks, some of which were sitting in her office and some of which Tarasovich retrieved from her home. Some the payments were dated Aug. 30.

Auditors also took Tarasovich to task on two other issues, one of which was that she improperly extended the deadline by which taxes had to be paid before a late penalty was assessed. That deadline was Dec. 15, a Saturday, but Tarasovich extended it to the 17th.

Tarasovich earlier told the Gazette she had decided to extend the deadline because her office is closed on Saturdays and she wanted to accommodate those who waited to the last minute to pay their tax bill.

The auditors said tax collectors do not have the authority to extend that deadline and must apply the penalty to any payments received after the 15th.

The other issue pointed out by the auditors relates to the earned interest on the bank deposits. Law requires that interest earned on tax deposits be handed over monthly, if not sooner. But there were indications that wasn’t happening, auditors said.

“There was indication in the monthly reports that monthly interest earned was not forwarded to the taxing districts,” the report says.

Tarasovich said those amounts do not have to be forwarded on a monthly basis and that they are small sums anyway, pennies.

Tarasovich said she can counter each of the findings, and said that the accusation she was sitting on $268,000 in checks is off base.

Some of those checks were mistakenly made out to the former tax collector, she said, and others checks were payments for 2012 taxes, which she could not accept. And other checks, she said, came in but were diverted to auditors as the review was taking place.

Auditors indeed noted that some of the checks, about $13,000 worth, were made out to the former tax collector. But they said a significant portion, more than $130,000, were in unopened mail.

Additionally, auditors said they could not say for sure whether money had been misappropriated, partly because they are unsure of whether Tarasovich handed over all of the records.

“We obtained unopened and opened tax collector mail and related correspondence that appeared ‘out in the open’ at (Tarasovich’s) office. (Tarasovich) retrieved tax records from her home; however, we cannot be certain all documentation was provided,” they wrote.

And, they said, what records they do have are incomplete and don’t agree.

“Therefore, we cannot state with 100 percent certainty that misappropriation of funds did not occur.”

Tarasovich said she turned over all the records she had.

The next step in the review comes today, as borough and township officials wait to see whether Tarasovich settles her books and reports results to the borough, county and township.

Tarasovich said she planned to meet today’s deadline, which is set by state law.

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