Luzerne County officials addressing old problem with Rice Township tax payments

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - [email protected] | March 16th, 2017 4:44 pm - updated: 9:57 pm.

After more than two decades, six Luzerne County property owners may soon clear a back-tax blemish blamed on the former Rice Township tax collector.

Elsie Dock was sentenced to two years of probation in 2001 for failing to turn over more than $128,000 in real estate taxes. She had denied keeping the money and said the problem was caused by bad bookkeeping that started with her decision to use 1988 tax payments to cover a previous year’s mistake.

Six township properties still carry back-tax debt from the 1990s because the owners insisted they paid Dock but were instead recorded as delinquent, officials said.

Northeast Revenue Service LLC, the county’s tax-claim operator since 2010, has asked all three taxing bodies — the township, county and Crestwood School District — to exonerate the delinquency records of these six properties so the company can seek court approval to clear the debts.

Until the records are cleared, the property owners and prospective buyers would be unable to secure financing or title insurance.

Without action by the taxing bodies and Northeast Revenue, the impacted property owners would be forced to file their own petitions with the Court of Common Pleas, which could be expensive and time-consuming for parties who have “already been victimized,” according to information submitted to county council.

Township and school district officials have already approved exoneration of the taxes owed to them, said the county briefing.

County council members have been asked to clear three of the properties involving county taxes. These properties are listed as owing the county a combined $1,967, including penalties, for 1996 or 1997. The properties are on Wintergreen Court, Burma Road and Catalpa Avenue, records show.

These property owners have no record of delinquent taxes in any prior or subsequent years, said Northeast Revenue, which became aware of the inherited problem when it was contacted by one of the owners.

The county’s law division recommends approval of the exoneration, the briefing noted.

County council members are set to discuss the request at their March 21 work session.

According to previous Times Leader reports, Dock was ordered to repay more than $135,000 in tax money she had failed to turn over, but she paid only a few hundred dollars. She wasn’t forced to pay more because a judge deemed her indigent, and it’s unclear if she ever resumed payments.

Ohio Casualty Insurance also agreed to pay a $20,000 settlement in 2004 as compensation for lost tax dollars in the Dock case.

Dock could not be reached for comment.

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

[email protected]

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Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.