Ruling on tax collectors weeks away

June 25th, 2015 8:54 am

First Posted: 9/5/2013

WILKES-BARRE – Attorneys involved in a lawsuit filed by the Luzerne County Tax Collectors Association against the county alleging that an ordinance eliminating their positions is illegal agreed to a number of facts Thursday, but a ruling likely will not come for several more weeks.

Attorney Michael Savona, who represents the association and the county’s 69 tax collectors, said after a meeting with Centre County Senior Judge David Grine and attorney Matthew Carmody, who represents the county, several facts of the case were agreed to Thursday. Several county tax collectors, elected county council members and those seeking office for county council and county controller appeared in court.

Savona emerged from the judge’s chambers after a meeting, notifying everyone present that stipulations were made to facts that are not disputed and the judge said additional court papers outlining the attorneys’ arguments should be filed by Oct. 7.

Grine, appointed by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts to oversee the case after county judges recused themselves, then scheduled a hearing for attorneys to make those arguments on Oct. 21. The judge will then make a ruling.

Savona said testimony is not needed in the case because it surrounds matters of what is legal and not legal, a decision that needs to be made by a judge.

In the suit, the tax collectors association contends an ordinance by the county abolishing their positions is invalid because it violates the state’s Local Tax Collection Law, which the suit calls a “statute of uniform, statewide applicability.”

The ordinance is not authorized by the county’s Home Rule Charter and violates the charter in that it attempts to exercise powers not granted to the county under state law, the suit says.

The associations asks for an injunction to suspend the ordinance until the lawsuit is sorted out.

All 69 tax collectors are on this year’s election ballot.

In recent weeks, the county announced proposed plans for the collection of county taxes by the Luzerne County Treasurer’s Office.

A council majority supported the switch to in-house collection, arguing the county will save an estimated $300,000 and have greater control over receipts by ending reliance on the elected collectors. The tax collectors have taken issue with the council’s decision.

In the proposed plans, the treasurer’s office is developing a system to allow property owners to pay taxes online with a credit card, debit card or electronic check and will provide evening hours at least one day per week during the rebate and face periods and at the end of December.

The office will accept payment at the Luzerne County Courthouse office, as well as at senior centers outside the Wilkes-Barre area and a satellite office in Hazleton.

The office will also have Saturday hours in Wilkes-Barre, as well as a drop-box, according to the plan.