Luzerne County tax collectors seeking a 10-cent increase for each bill they collect annually over the next four-year term for those elected this year, starting when they take office in 2022. The collectors currently receive $2.50 for each paid county tax bill.
                                 File photo

Luzerne County tax collectors seeking a 10-cent increase for each bill they collect annually over the next four-year term for those elected this year, starting when they take office in 2022. The collectors currently receive $2.50 for each paid county tax bill.

File photo

Luzerne County’s 68 elected tax collectors are requesting a pay increase — a topic set for discussion at Tuesday’s county council work session.

The collectors currently receive $2.50 for each paid county tax bill.

They are seeking a 10-cent increase annually over the next four-year term for those elected this year, starting when they take office in 2022. That would bring their per-bill receipt to $2.90 in the fourth year.

There’s a narrow window for council to act on the matter because modifications must be approved before prospective collectors can start circulating and filing nomination petitions on Feb. 16 to appear on the May 18 primary election ballot.

The next opportunity for a pay adjustment would not be until 2026 for the following term, said Hanover Township tax collector Mildred Luba, who is president of the Luzerne County Tax Collectors Association.

Luba said tax collectors believe a raise is warranted because their compensation has not increased since a council majority reduced it in 2013.

“We collectors appreciate your consideration to this matter,” Luba wrote in a letter attached to the agenda for Tuesday’s work session, which follows a 6 p.m. voting meeting. Directions on attending the virtual session are posted under the public meetings online section of council’s page at luzernecounty.org.

Council must vote at a subsequent meeting for any change to take effect.

No raises were considered the last time the collector compensation came up four years ago, in January 2017. Instead, some council members advocated a pay reduction or in-house collection.

Then-Councilman Rick Williams proposed a reduction to $1.50 per bill based on Harrisburg-based Public Financial Management’s 2015 financial recovery plan recommendation to pay elected collectors the same $1.50 granted to three home rule municipalities — Kingston, Kingston Township and Wilkes-Barre Township — to collect county taxes. That reduction would have saved an estimated $123,534 annually, the county administration concluded at the time.

Councilwoman Linda McClosky Houck and three others had supported switching to in-house collection by the county treasurer’s office, which the administration estimated would save $25,101 annually after factoring in additional costs for staffing and a mobile collection unit.

In the end, a council majority supported Councilman Robert Schnee’s motion to keep the compensation at $2.50 per paid bill for elected collectors and $1.50 for home rule municipalities.

Luba said this week she and other elected collectors provide a valued service to many property owners with no health benefits or pensions. Many have informed residents of their eligibility for homestead and property tax rebate programs that they did not know existed, she said.

“We give a lot of information to people. We receive all kinds of questions,” Luba said. “We are the go-between.”

Tax collectors also have argued a reduction to $1.50 would be unfair because municipal employees collect the county taxes in home rule municipalities in addition to handling other duties.

Under the existing pay structure, the county pays elected tax collectors approximately $297,000 in wages, the 2021 budget says. That figure does not include payroll taxes.

Calculations on the cost of the requested raise have not yet been released.

The county treasurer’s office collects county taxes in Newport Township and the county’s four cities — Wilkes-Barre, Nanticoke, Hazleton, Pittston and Newport Township.

All collectors, including the county, receive money from fees for providing copies of duplicate bills and tax certifications. The elected collectors also separately receive payments from school districts and municipalities to collect their tax bills, county officials have said.

The county’s elected collectors had previously received $3.50 for both paid and unpaid county tax bills but accepted a reduction in exchange for council’s halting of a switch to in-house tax collection in January 2014. Their concession agreement resulted in $2 payments for each paid county tax bill in 2014 and 2015 and $2.50 in 2016 and 2017. They also stopped receiving payment for uncollected bills.