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Changes in local tax filings add new wrinkle

| Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, 12:52 a.m.

There's a new tax man in town, and residents need to make sure they file their local returns with him this spring.

State Act 32 went into effect last year, changing the way earned income taxes are collected at the local level.

Until now, taxpayers have had to do little to comply with the law.

Each county appointed a tax collection agency charged with collecting the EIT, or wage tax, directly from employers. Employers must withhold the typically 1 percent tax from employee paychecks. The funds regularly are remitted to the municipalities in which employees live.

Another change under the law is that taxpayers must file their local tax returns with the tax collection agency, rather than a local tax collector or treasurer's office as they have done in the past.

Berkheimer Tax Administrator is the agency collecting the taxes and tax returns for residents of Armstrong, Butler and Westmoreland counties.

Keystone Collections Group was the agency appointed for the two tax districts in the Alle-Kiski Valley's portion of Allegheny County.

Representatives of both agencies said they have mailed the forms for filing 2012 local income tax returns to their counties' taxpayers, who should receive them soon if they haven't already.

Lower Burrell Treasurer Brian Eshbaugh said his office, which previously processed local tax returns, has received many calls so far this year from residents confused by or unaware of the changes.

He said some residents ignored or discarded the letter they received from Berkheimer, believing it to be a scam or junk mail. Others thought they still could file their return with Eshbaugh's office.

“Last year, when we handled the 2011 final returns, we sent out a notice to everybody that Berkheimer would be taking over,” Eshbaugh said. “Obviously, they forget.”

Jim Hunt, director of sales and client services for Bangor-based Berkheimer, said anyone who didn't receive, lost or threw out their form can call the company or log onto to their website to request a new one.

He and Joe Lazzaro, a vice president and general counsel for Irwin-based Keystone, said taxpayers also can file their local returns online — an advantage that rarely was available for local returns before.

Each company offers an e-file option on their respective websites, as well as explanatory information about filing the returns.

“What we're finding — this has already occurred in a lot of Allegheny County — taxpayers are getting their individual tax returns and they're going right online (to file),” Lazzaro said. “That's the fastest way to get a refund.”

Ideally, taxpayers should not owe any money: “If employers followed the letter of the law for Act 32, the taxpayers should not owe anything,” Hunt said.

Exceptions typically are people who are self-employed or have additional earned income.

But even if you don't owe taxes, everyone must file a tax return by April 15.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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