Due to the expert reporting of Jennifer Learn-Andes the homestead tax exemption surreptitously taken back by Luzerne County demanded a spotlight on its "midnight" raid of taxpayer money. Well it really didn't happen at midnight but you get the idea.
In this article that appeared in the Standard Speaker by Michael Buffer it was reported that Luzerne County property tax bills were mailed without the homestead exemption. In effect the tax break was reclaimed on top of the 15% tax increase approved by the Luzerne County Commissioners.
Commissioners Chairwoman Maryanne Petrilla said county officials didn't think the homestead tax break was in effect this year because commissioners didn't vote to authorize it for 2010.
"How do you raise taxes and give a break? It's almost like a shell game," Petrilla said. "We're going to raise taxes, and then you're going to have to raise taxes even higher yet to cover an exemption. It didn't appear to make much sense.
But Commissioner Stephen A. Urban said a 2009 resolution authorized the tax break for 2009 and requires the tax break to stay in effect until commissioners rescind it.
"It should not have been taken off the tax bills," Urban said.
In this article by Jennifer Learn-Andes of the Times Leader Commissioner Petrilla is taken to task for her statement.
County Solicitor Vito DeLuca said Monday that he researched the law and concluded that a homestead tax break must continue unless commissioners vote to rescind it.
Urban said he and Commissioner Thomas Cooney had no idea the break had been eliminated and both agreed that the homestead should be restored.
County Commissioner Chairwoman Maryanne Petrilla said last week that she never knew the break had to continue beyond 2009. She maintained that a higher tax increase would be necessary to fund the break.
However, county Budget/Finance Director Tom Pribula said the cost of the tax break was never removed from the budget, and the county would receive an unanticipated $3.5 million to $4 million windfall if the break was not offered.
Urban said the break was meant to reward property owners who choose to make the county their primary residence.
“We value home ownership and understand the importance of this program, particularly at this economic time,” Urban said.
The homestead knocks $10,000 off an assessment for county taxes -- not school or municipal ones.
Her lack of knowledge cost the county a ton.
The county already spent thousands of dollars on mailing, printing and labor to prepare the tax bills that must be scrapped. The county mailed 12,262 tax bills last week, and another 36,700 were printed but not mailed.
County Information Technology Director Steve Englot said he had to order about 70,000 more tax bill forms and additional postage and printer cartridges to prepare the new bills for roughly 165,000 property owners.
To add the calamity of the situation Commissioner Petrilla tries to cover her hide with some self serving statements right out of a campaign stump in a subsequent article by Jennifer Learn-Andes.
Following is Petrilla's statement:
I want the taxpayers of the county to know I hear their frustration and anger at the recent mix-up concerning the Homestead Tax Exemption. There was a mistake made here. We’re all human. I told the people attending the commissioners’ meeting last week who protested that we would correct this. And we have.
I can’t dial back the play clock on this one item. We will make sure things like this don’t occur again.
I also hope that all I have tried to do to improve county government at this crucial time in our history will not be judged by this one incident. I’ve finally put an end to the wasteful practice of seemingly endless county borrowing. We had to raise taxes, but we made many cuts in this year’s spending to try to minimize the pain. We now have a fairer tax system with everyone paying their fair share instead of some receiving a better deal over others. This preferential treatment went on for decades beyond when other counties reassessed. Additionally:
• I singlehandedly worked with the principals of PA Child Care to end their lease that cost $58 million.
• Discovered the practice of contract piecemealing, stopped and exposed it, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.
• Completely put an end to nepotism and cronyism by hiring professional and experienced directors to fill jobs.
• Developed a cooperative working relationship with the courts to streamline their budget and save taxpayer’s two million dollars a year.
There has been much to cleanup since I became chairwoman of the commissioners. I’ve worked hard to begin the cleanup. I hope people won’t rush to judgment on my overall record before some time passes and it can be judged in it’s entirety.
These have been tough times in Luzerne County for a variety of reasons. We’re doing our best in these trying days. I hope people will look at the big picture. Thank you to the taxpayers for any patience they can afford us. We will continue to try and do better.
She singlehandedly did what??? She discovered what?? With all due respect Commissioner Petrilla you sound like Todd Eachus when he states he was managing the Bonusgate investigation from Harrisburg. I believe the FBI and AG Tom Corbett had respective roles in what each of you claim.
As for Maryann rooting out waste let's revisit the Frank Vita debacle.
Psychologist denies involvement in alleged juvenile justice scheme
BY MICHAEL R. SISAK AND DAVE JANOSKI
Published: Thursday, February 19, 2009 4:06 AM EST
“Every bill that was paid to Frank Vita was approved by the county controller’s office, including the two years that Maryanne Petrilla was controller,” McGarry said. “They were approved and reimbursed. All I did was sign the rate card.”
Petrilla, who has served since last January as the chairwoman of the county’s board of commissioners, did not return telephone messages late Wednesday.