Newspaper appeals denial of request for W-B tax data

June 26th, 2015 5:21 am

First Posted: 7/26/2013

WILKES-BARRE — The city has denied a request to provide a list of people delinquent on the 3 percent wage taxes for the past two years, prompting an appeal by The Times Leader to the state Office of Open Records in Harrisburg.

Through a Right to Know request, the newspaper last month sought the names and addresses of delinquent taxpayers and the amounts owed for 2011 and 2012.

In a July 3 letter, the city’s Open Records Officer Margaret Sharksnas said the information sought was “confidential tax information” pursuant to the Local Tax Enabling Act and the Local Taxpayers Bill of Rights.

The act protects a broad range of information from public disclosure, stating “any information gained by a tax officer or any employee or agent of a tax officer or of the tax collection committee as a result of any declarations, returns, investigation, hearings or verifications shall be confidential.”

Sharksnas further stated the state Office of Open Records previously held the names and addresses obtained from tax returns “are exempt from disclosure under the LTEA.”

The newspaper on July 11 appealed the denial to the Office of Open Records, which has 30 days to issue a binding final determination.

Under the law, the burden of proof that the records are not subject to public access rests with the city.

Joe Butkiewicz, executive editor of The Times Leader, disagreed with the city’s denial.

“We think Times Leader readers and the people who live and work in Wilkes-Barre have an interest in who is failing to pay the city wage tax,” he said. “I don’t see that information as a declaration, return, investigation, hearing or verification. It is a failure to return. The city would best serve residents, the many people who work here and other stakeholders to be open and transparent.”