Letters add fuel to tax discord
BLAIRSVILLE — What should have been a simple reminder for Blairsville residents to pay their local taxes is turning out to be anything but.
Tax collector Carol Tarasovich said on Monday that the borough left her out of the loop when officials sent taxes-are-now-due reminder letters to residents, regardless of whether they had already paid their 2013 tax bill.
She said she was sidestepped and wasn’t given a chance to look through the letters and weed out the ones addressed to people who have already paid. And now, she said, she’s getting an earful from residents.
“It makes me look totally incompetent,” she said. “I would just like people to know that I didn’t send them out.”
Such letters are commonplace and usually aren’t a source of dispute. But in this case, they have taken on a heightened importance as lagging tax receipts are crimping the cash flow for both the borough and Blairsville-Saltsburg School District.
Compared to the same point last year, the borough and the school district’s tax receipts are collectively off by around $637,000. In Blairsville, the lag has stressed its finances to the point that it has had to cash a $54,000 certificate of deposit to meet expenses, according to borough manager Tim Evans. Evans said the borough hasn’t seen a tax deposit from Tarasovich’s office since Sept. 10.
Indiana County Treasurer Sandra Kirkland said her office also has noted that collections from borough residents are behind, although she was unable to say by how much on Monday. She said the lag isn’t affecting the county to the same degree because Blairsville is but one of 37 other municipalities generating income for the county.
Borough officials have said they aren’t sure whether the lag is the result of residents failing to pay on time or whether it’s the result of Tarasovich’s performance in office. But at least one resident, who called for an audit of her office last month, said it appears she is not processing payments in a timely manner.
Michael Parr, of Bentley Drive, told borough council it took six weeks for his property tax payment to be processed. Council members also said they have heard similar criticisms. Aside from that, some have criticized Tarasovich for being unresponsive to phone messages and failing to keep her posted office hours.
But Tarasovich denies she is sitting on checks and has said the lag results from the timing of her appointment to office. She was appointed as tax collector in February but didn’t establish her office until April, she said. And as her predecessor had a full year to do a job she had eight months to do, it’s unfair to make year-over-year comparisons of tax receipts, Tarasovich said.
She made that same argument during a Nov. 21 meeting with local officials, who gathered to discuss the tax receipts with her. In the end, it was agreed that the county’s information services department would generate the reminder letters and that Tarasovich would look through them, pulling out those addressed to residents who had paid, before mailing them.
The letters never reached her, Tarasovich said.
She said Indiana County Commissioner and Blairsville resident Patty Evanko took them, gave them to her husband, borough council Vice President Ron Evanko, who then handed them to Evans.
Evanko said she had the letters because she had volunteered to deliver them to the borough after the department informed her they had been printed.
Once she had them, she said she called Tarasovich to tell her and explained that if she didn’t hear back before she left for a trip to Harrisburg, she would leave the letters for Tarasovich at the borough office.
Evanko said she never heard back, so she left the letters with her husband to give to Evans.
Evans said that once he had the letters, he tried calling Tarasovich at least 12 times but never heard back from her. He also knocked on her office door, but found only a note saying she would be out until this week.
The letters sat in the borough office through Thanksgiving weekend. When Evans returned from vacation and found them still there, he sent them, he said.
He said that, in theory, residents who paid before Nov. 21 shouldn’t have received a letter because they were generated based on information Tarasovich is supposed to be reporting to the county.