$4,000 in tax receipts missing, auditor finds
BLAIRSVILLE — The three taxing bodies that were served by Blairsville Borough’s former tax collector collectively are short $4,003.15 in their 2013 tax receipts.
That’s according to an audit prepared by Johnstown firm Wessel & Co., which was jointly commissioned to review tax collector Carol Tarasovich’s 2013 property tax collection records.
The firm said the amount is the difference between what the figure should be in the bank accounts of the borough, Blairsville-Saltsburg School District and Indiana County and what is actually there.
The borough, along with the school district and the county, had asked for the audit following complaints that tax receipts were significantly lagging from previous years and that tax payments weren’t being deposited in a timely manner, if at all. The audit covered the period from April 1, 2013, to Jan. 15, 2014.
Blairsville council accepted the audit findings at a meeting Monday. The school board is expected to do likewise at its meeting on Wednesday. The county commissioners will likely address the issue at next week’s meeting.
Officials have said they believe that sloppy recordkeeping and carelessness, and not misconduct, are at the heart of the matter. And borough solicitor Bob Bell said Monday that he does not anticipate that any criminal charges will arise from the audit.
The likely outcome is that the taxing bodies will file a claim with Tarasovich’s bonding agency. And indeed, they have already given notice that they may file a claim.
Reached at home Monday night, Tarasovich denied that there was a $4,000 shortage. She said she can account for all the money, up until the time the auditors stepped in and took her books to begin the review.
“I have a ledger sheets that match every deposit. I can account for every single penny that I took in and what account it went into,” she said.
Tarasovich has all along maintained that she kept meticulous records while in office and that the audit was politically motivated. She said she believes she did a good job while in office.
The auditors, however, disagree, and noted several significant accounting and tax collection errors in their final report.
Aside from the $4,000 that the auditors say is unaccounted for, they noted that more than several properties wound up having liens placed against them in error.
The auditors reported that they counted 105 instances in which properties were placed on the county lien list despite that taxes were said to have been paid. In each instance, the auditors said payment had been made, but the check was never cashed.
To be sure, that figure does not represent 105 different properties. Some are counted twice, as school taxes are listed under one bill and the county and borough taxes are jointly listed under another bill.
Tarasovich has denied she was sitting on checks, and did so again Monday night.
“Every single check I received, I deposited,” she said. “What would be my motive to not process a check?”
She said that if payment was made in her office, she issued a receipt. If payment was made through the mail, she deposited payment right away. She said she doubted those taxpayers had actually paid their tax bills.
“I do not believe that they paid it. If they can’t produce some form of receipt, I do not believe it has been paid.”
Yet, auditors in a preliminary report said that when they took records from her office in December, they found $268,000 worth of undeposited payments.
Tarasovich took office by appointment following the resignation of Joan Baker in January 2013. Baker, mother of Commissioner Mike Baker, stepped down after learning her husband had cancer.
2013 was an election year, so Tarasovich’s appointment was effective only through the end of the year. She, however, decided to seek a full four-year term and successfully ran for office, defeating two others in the primary.
She was uncontested in the November election.
Not too long into her tenure, officials began noticing that tax collections were lower than they had been at the same times in prior years. And then they began hearing complaints that tax payments were being processed slowly, if at all. One borough resident actually called on council to audit Tarasovich’s office.
Under fire, Tarasovich resigned from office in January. And council later gave the job back to Baker.
Tarasovich said she does not trust the audit findings.
“I don’t think it was an objective audit in any way,” she said, pointing out that the school district’s business manager, Eric Kocsis, is a former employee of Wessel & Co. The firm is the district’s outside auditor.
Kocsis said the audit findings speak for themselves: “It is what it is,” he said.
He also said the taxing bodies had tried to contact Tarasovich to discuss the audit findings and to give her a chance to dispute them prior to their release. She never got back in touch, Kocsis said.