WILKES-BARRE — The state Office of Open Records on Friday denied an appeal by The Times Leader for information on people delinquent on the city’s wage tax.
The office ruled the information sought by the newspaper from the city is confidential and “not a ‘public record’ ” under the state’s Right to Know law.
The newspaper’s executive editor, Joe Butkiewicz, expressed disappointment with the ruling. “But that won’t stop our efforts to scrutinize the business of the city and pursue information that is of interest to our readers, ” he said.
The newspaper filed a right-to-know request with the city on June 26 for the names of people delinquent on the city’s 3 percent wage tax for the years 2011 and 2012 and also asked for the amounts owed.
The names of property owners are published by law in a newspaper when they are delinquent on their real estate taxes, which the city levies, and the property goes to a tax sale.
The city denied the request on July 3, saying the information was confidential under the Local Tax Enabling Act, and the newspaper appealed to the open records office on July 8. The newspaper said it requested only the records of delinquencies rather than tax returns.
But the city provided affidavits from its finance officer Brett Kittrick and Patricia McNamara, president of H.A. Berkheimer Inc., the vendor contracted to collect the tax. The affidavits were provided to support the city’s position that the information sought by the newspaper was confidential and that Berkheimer obtained the information from “tax declarations, returns, investigations, hearings and verifications,” which the office previously said could not be disclosed.