Griffith

Griffith

Requested raises for Luzerne County’s 68 elected tax collectors prompted mixed response from county council members Tuesday.

Councilman Walter Griffith said he believes it would be “highly hypocritical” to provide increases when council removed raises for non-union county employees from the 2021 budget. He said he appreciates the work of tax collectors and their right to seek increases but argued council should “stay consistent.”

But Councilman Stephen J. Urban, who usually votes with Griffith, said he respectfully disagrees with that argument because the tax collector raises would not take effect until those elected this year take office in 2022 for their new four-year term.

Council members can negotiate any four-year agreement they want, Urban said.

Elected collectors currently receive $2.50 for each paid county tax bill and are seeking a 10-cent increase annually, bringing their per-bill receipt to $2.90 in the fourth year.

Based on his discussion with a county Tax Collectors Association representative, Urban said the requested increase would cost the county approximately $13,000 more in the first year and about $50,000 in the fourth year.

Council Chairman Tim McGinley said council will have a cost breakdown before it votes on Jan. 26. Griffith also asked the administration to calculate what the county would save by switching to in-house collection of county real estate taxes by the county treasurer’s office.

Council must implement any changes before prospective collectors can start circulating and filing nomination petitions on Feb. 16 to appear on the May 18 primary election ballot.

Councilman Robert Schnee told his colleagues he wholeheartedly supports the tax collectors and said they have not received an increase since they agreed to a $1-per-bill reduction.

However, Councilwoman Linda McClosky Houck said she does not technically characterize that as a pay reduction because council had planned to switch to in-house tax collection in which they would receive no county payment. In exchange for a council majority’s reversal of in-house collection, the collectors accepted $2 in 2014 and 2015 and $2.50 after that. They were previously paid $3.50 for both paid and unpaid county tax bills, and the concession ended the payment for uncollected bills.

McClosky Houck also noted elected collectors were unwilling to accept the $1.50-per-bill the county pays three home rule municipalities — Kingston, Kingston Township and Wilkes-Barre Township — to collect county taxes, she said.

Councilman Harry Haas said he can’t support an increase. He described the current tax collection system as “archaic” and noted the county payment is only “one-third of the puzzle” because collectors also are paid by municipalities and school districts.

Without taking a position on the raises, county Manager C. David Pedri asked council to negotiate a requirement for every tax collector to have two authorized signers on their bank accounts. In some situations, the county was unable to obtain payment when elected collectors were incapacitated, he said.

Tax collectors have maintained they provide valued customer service to many property owners.

In other business Tuesday:

• Seven of the 11 council members rejected Urban’s motion to change the council chairmanship from McGinley to Haas. McGinley said he is in the second year of his final four-year term and supports someone else taking over the leadership post next year.

• County Chief Solicitor Romilda Crocamo encouraged county vehicle owners to renew their registration for one year instead of adding 2022 to avoid the need to receive a refund. The county is ending its additional $5 vehicle registration fee the end of this year.