Last updated: March 16. 2013 9:35PM - 315 Views

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Over the last several months, I have attended all council meetings where discussion relative to the tax collection issue were to be debated. Several material facts recorded at the meetings were not mentioned in last week's commentary by James L. Bobeck and I feel that the residents of Luzerne County should be cognizant of this information.



Fact: At a council meeting three months ago, the savings figure of $268,000 was disputed due to the gross omission of several costs that were not used in its calculation. County Manager Robert Lawton finally agreed that it was incorrect, yet it continues to be used in the media.



Fact: The lowest collection rate in the county has consistently been experienced by that which is collected at the courthouse for at least the last 12 years. When asked why this is so at a council meeting, the response was because I collect large cities. A quick check revealed that 22 of the areas collected by elected tax collectors have a larger tax base than these large cities with the exception of Wilkes-Barre, yet every one of them had a collection rate of 1 to 9 percent more.



Fact: The pad and pencil method of tax collection implied by Mr. Bobeck to be in use today actually has not been used since the Jimmy Carter administration. Years ago, a computer system was initiated by Luzerne County and has been in use by the tax collectors since then. It has been praised by auditors throughout Luzerne County due to its facilitation of the audit process. The fail-safe system requires the collectors to zero out their settlement sheets at year's end with the county. This cannot be accomplished unless they have balanced their books.



Fact: In-house collections at the courthouse currently represent the highest cost per bill to the taxpayers of Luzerne County at $5.49 a bill. This cost was determined by data received from treasurers office management.



Fact: A minimum of $30,000 annual savings would be realized by the county if the three cities collected in-house were collected by the elected tax collectors. This includes the cost of processing the unpaids.



Fact: The Pennsylvania Economy League has determined that, based on the number of tax bills and dollars collected, Luzerne County pays below the average incurred by similar counties throughout the state for its tax collection at $3.50 per bill. This information was given to council at a recent meeting.



Fact: No elected tax collector in the county charges constituents a fee for tax certifications or copies of bills. Mortgage companies, financial intermediaries and attorneys seeking this information for closings and loan applications can be charged only if an ordinance has been approved in the tax collector's community. The $130,000 additional revenue Mr. Bobeck speaks of actually would be derived from $10 fees charged to the residents of the county for a service presently provided for free by elected tax collectors.


Recently, representatives of the Tax Collectors Association of Luzerne County agreed to a decrease in pay that will save the county a guaranteed $125,000. This agreement in good faith after no raises in the last eight years. The task that council faces in seeking ways to curb spending while staring at a $430 million dollar debt can be overwhelming.


I am reminded of when I was the general ledger manager at First Eastern Bank, N.A. in the early 1970s. My job was to calculate the daily reserve position of the bank for the sale of excess funds in the federal fund market. Several factors involving correspondent banks, time deposits and float were necessary to accurately calculate a figure without overdrawing the federal account. The complexity at first was daunting until my boss, the comptroller asked me, how do you eat an elephant? I did not know. The answer was, one bite at a time.


The guaranteed savings of $125,000 with no loss of service represents a small but fiscally prudent bite of our elephant. As independent thinkers, I am confident that council members, armed with verifiable facts will responsibly act in the best interest of their constituents.




The guaranteed savings of $125,000 with no loss of service represents a small but fiscally prudent bite of our elephant. As independent thinkers, I am confident that council members, armed with verifiable facts will responsibly act in the best interest of their constituents.




Leonard T. Luba is a resident of Hanover Township.

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