Mount Carmel Borough Council keeps $20,000 reduction in tax collector compensation
MOUNT CARMEL - The fight against Mount Carmel Borough Council's decision to reduce the salary of the borough tax collector by $20,000 was cut short by the current tax collector himself when he learned there is someone else in the borough willing to do the same job at the reduced compensation.
With a look of defeat, Christopher Grayson, who spent approximately 30 minutes Thursday night during a special meeting trying to justify why he thinks he deserves to be paid at the current rate, said he didn't need any more time once President Tony Matulewicz read a letter from Debra Kaleta, of West Fourth Street.
Earlier this month, council voted to change the compensation rate of the tax collector, which would go into
effect Jan. 1, 2014, to $1.50 for every real estate tax bill, $.25 for every per capita tax bill and $1 for every occupation assessment tax bill - similar to how Mount Carmel Area School District and Northumberland County compensate the tax collector.
The borough was previously paying Grayson 3.5 percent for every individual real estate, per capita and occupation assessment bill he collects in a year.
Grayson, who is up for re-election this year, argued no one would be willing to run for the elected position with such a low compensation rate. If Grayson doesn't run and no one else was elected, the borough would have the option of appointing a bank to take on the duties - Susquehanna Bank officials already submitted a $4,200 a year proposal to take on the tax collector duties.
Since Grayson was planning on presenting arguments against why appointing a bank would not be a good idea, Matulewicz decided to read the letter from Kaleta.
"It appears that some members of council and the public are concerned that if the tax collector's rate of compensation is reduced in 2014 that no one will want to run for that office. I would like to alleviate any concerns of that type," she wrote.
Kaleta decided to run to save the taxpayers money and because she enjoys spending time assisting residents with questions and interacting with her neighbors on a daily basis, she wrote.
Grayson immediately stopped his presentation.
"If the banks are out of the question, this meeting is out of the question. That's it," he said. "You got what you want."
Several council members assured Grayson the decision to reduce the compensation rate was not a personal attack nor a commentary on his performance as a tax collector.
According to figures provided by the county, borough and school district, Mount Carmel is paying more than four times the amount of the county and school district.
"One entity is bearing the brunt of the other two. How do I justify that to the taxpayers when it's the same service?" Councilman Joseph Lapotsky said.
During the first half hour of the meeting, Grayson said his job was more than just accepting money from the taxpayers. He works 40 hours a week, and has administrative duties such as pulling receipts for the elderly, filing address changes and removing taxpayers who have moved or died.
He argued that it was against a court decision to lower the rates so low that tax collectors would not run.
State law prohibits a school district from implementing a lockbox system - where banks collect taxes and the taxing body provides customer service by offering lower pay to motivate tax collectors out of office.
In October, the state Supreme Court sided with tax collectors when Pennridge and Central Bucks school districts reduced their compensation by so much that the collectors were not being adequately compensated for their time.
Following the meeting, Grayson was asked by a News-Item reporter if he had anything he'd like to say.
"No, nothing," he said.
Grayson, who is in his second four-year term, had previously said he would not run again if the council kept the change.
Borough resident Tom Koch was not happy with the direction the borough was taking.
"I believe losing the tax collector in Mount Carmel would be a great deficit in this area. You have to stand behind the people who stand behind the community," he said. "I came here tonight to make sure no one was taken advantage of."
Northumberland County Chief Assessor Al Bressi, who answered any questions Grayson or the council had, said he was satisfied with the outcome.
"Going with a bank is not a good idea," he said.
If the borough collects its own taxes by appointing a bank, Bressi said the county would also have to collect its own from the borough taxpayers, and the shared cost of bills in relation to postage and paperwork would increase from $2,827 each to $5,620 each.
In 2012, the borough paid Grayson $19,480.64 for real estate bills, $4,253 for occupational assessment bills and $412.03 for per capita bills. Since there's also 7.65 percent on the real estate bills for Social Security and Medicare that goes to Grayson, the borough's total bill to the tax collector was $25,636.07 in 2012.
The school district pays $1.25 commission on every real estate tax bill and $1 commission on every per capita and occupation assessment tax bill. The county pays $1.50 for every real estate tax bill and $.25 for every per capita and occupation assessment tax bill.
Comparatively, the school district compensates Grayson at $5,908.25 and the county compensates him at $6,282.75 - roughly four times less than what the borough pays.