The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

February 7, 2013

Property tax bills delayed

MERCER COUNTY — If you bought or sold property in Mercer County in the past year, you might have a problem with your property tax bill.

Heavier-than-usual demands on the time and attention of county employees in the tax collector’s office have put the updating of records about eight months behind, warned Michael Deforest, director of the department of revenue.

That lag likely means that those who bought or sold property may receive outdated tax bills in March. Either new owners won’t receive a tax notice or former owners might get one for property they no longer own, he said.

He told county commissioners Wednesday that even though the tax office may be behind in sending out bills for newly purchased property, owners are still responsible for paying the taxes and if they don’t, will still face penalties.

Commissioner Chairman John Lechner said he didn’t think it was right to penalize property owners if it was the county’s fault. He wants to sit down with Deforest and find a solution.

“It’s our responsibility and this is something we need to get corrected,” he said.

Lechner asked whether hiring a temporary worker would help, but Deforest said no, because it takes an extended period of time to get employees trained in the office practices.

Deforest said a state law that has been “tested in court, appealed and been upheld” places the responsibility on the property owner to pay the taxes, regardless of receiving a notice. He plans to release more detailed information closer to March, explaining what property owners with questions should do, along with a list of tax due dates.

The problem, Deforest said, is that demand for tax lien information has tripled in the last year, particularly with companies researching properties for oil and gas leases and with banking institutions whose lending policies have tightened. That increase, along with staffing cuts, means that the nine employees aren’t able to keep up with the workload, he said.

“It isn’t that anybody is slouching. It’s just that the volume of people requesting information has gotten so high that people aren’t at their desks to get other work done. I also want to be clear that this has nothing to do with the recorder’s office, which is doing everything exactly as it should,” he said.

“The hold-up is due to a lot of factors. The interest from those oil and gas leases is people coming in to see exactly how much land people own. They need a copy of the property record card that shows the size of the land and the house and any outbuildings. With the tightening of the standards to get a mortgage, the banks want to see that homes were built with the proper permits. They go through this process before they give a loan, looking for assurances to protect their investment. Credit card companies call wanting to verify that people own property. We get all manner of telephone calls as well,” he said.

Deforest gave as an example the increase in the number of tax lien certificates his office has processed the last couple of years. “In 2011 we did 2,620 certificates, charging $5 a certificate, and generated $13,100. In 2012, we did 6,917, generating $34,595.” State law allows a maximum charge of $5.

He has been working in the tax office for 34 years and has been the director for 24 years and said the best the office has ever been was about three months behind the recorder’s office. And at one time, he said, probably about 20 years ago, the office was “three to four years behind.”

While he said he is working on “solutions” to the backlog, Deforest said a computer program is about 12 to 18 months away that will provide a searchable database, which he hopes will eliminate some of the walk-in traffic.

He also said he foresees the “mad rush” of oil and gas lease business winding down and thinks this problem will be corrected in the next year or so.

Most municipalities mail the tax bills for county, school and municipal taxes on March 1, but there are some smaller townships that combine all three and mail them in the summer, he said.

1
Text Only
Local News
  • City zoners give nod to Speedway signs

    Speedway cleared a hurdle Thursday when city zoners granted a variance for signs at the company’s gas station and convenience store proposed for downtown Sharon.

    August 1, 2014

  • Retirement is definite, hiring replacement isn’t

    Farrell Fire Chief Joseph Santell will be retiring at the end of this year.

    August 1, 2014

  • Natural gas rates drop 5.6 pct.

    National Fuel Gas Distribution Corp. on Thursday announced it lowered residential natural gas rates by 5.6 percent, effective today through October.

    August 1, 2014

  • Audit calls for better record-keeping policies

    The annual auditor’s report for the City of Farrell was presented by City Manager Michael Ceci to council members Monday.

    August 1, 2014

  • trout island trail paving Hot on the trail

    Work began last week to pave a section of the Trout Island Trail, replacing a crushed limestone surface.

    August 1, 2014 3 Photos

  • CIRT team in Jackson Center Man arrested after shooting standoff

    One Jackson Center man is recovering from a bullet wound, and the borough resident accused of shooting him sits in jail after a long night of drinking that state police say turned into a case of attempted homicide.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Sharon Speedway location City on track for new Speedway store

    Speedway is lining up its administrative and bureaucratic cones on plans for the gas station and convenience store chain to zoom into downtown Sharon.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Guards, county OK deal

    County officials and guards at the Mercer County Jail have reached a tentative contract agreement that, if approved, halts the idea of privatizing operations at the facility.

    July 31, 2014

  • Doss: Public has right to know

    A major part of Farrell council’s work session Monday was spent deciding whether or not to inform the audience about an unofficial police proposal from the City of Sharon.

    July 30, 2014

  • Budget falling short despite tax hike

    Farrell residents may have seen an income tax increase this year, but the city isn’t seeing the extra dollars City Manager Michael Ceci budgeted for.

    July 30, 2014

  • oakwood graves 1 Resting together

    Visitors to Oakwood Cemetery would see many  familiar local names if they looked down the hillside to the left just inside the gate on Sharon’s North Oakland Avenue.

    July 30, 2014 3 Photos

  • Police: Kids in car were OK

    The mother of two young children was drunk and passed out when police found them all in a car parked along a city street, Sharon police said.

    July 29, 2014

  • To talk – or not – about police

    The mysterious agenda item, “No. 10,” at Farrell’s council meeting Monday became the center of a heated workshop and business session.

    July 29, 2014

  • Community thanks its first-responders

    Sharpsville honored its emergency responders Sunday at an event that included Mertz Towers residents as special guests.

    July 28, 2014

  • Drilling boom challenges state inspectors

    The state’s 83 well inspectors face a daunting enough challenge keeping tabs on 120,000 active oil and gas wells that have been drilled over the last century.

    July 28, 2014