Trip raises delinquent tax issue at Highlands School District
A Highlands School Board member owes the district $33,000 in delinquent taxes on four properties.
Despite that, board member Ron Lang plans to attend a national school conference in California later this week — a trip that will cost taxpayers about $2,000.
An eight-year member of the board, Lang owes the taxes on his house on Ninth Avenue in Brackenridge and three business properties in Tarentum, according to the Highlands Tax Office.
“I had business complications a while back,” Lang said. “I put this on a payment plan agreement with the school district. It's just dirty politics.”
The issue arose when fellow board member Debbie Beale submitted a letter to the editor of the Valley News Dispatch about it.
Records show that Lang owes:
• About $9,600 in back taxes on his house from 2007 through 2010.
• $12,800 on the Praha Hotel in Tarentum, his primary business from 2007 through 2011.
• About $10,600 on the building along Fifth Avenue in Tarentum that houses Bangor's bar, plus a separate but adjoining rear lot that faces Fourth Avenue. Those taxes are delinquent for the years 2007 through 2011.
District Business Manager Jon Rupert confirmed that Lang is on a payment plan, paying $500 per month on the taxes plus a penalty and 10 percent interest.
Lang said he intends to have the taxes paid up around Labor Day.
Beale said constituents asked her to look into the matter while passing out her nominating petitions for the upcoming primary election. Both she and Lang are unopposed in District 2 in May.
The tax office confirmed Lang is the only board member who is delinquent on taxes.
Problems not unique
Rupert said such delinquencies are not unusual.
“I know this happened before and he came in and paid it all off,” Rupert said. “People go in cycles.”
Beale said she tried to keep the matter “behind closed doors,” bringing it up at a closed executive session and asked Lang to “do the right thing.”
“What set me off is that he booked a trip to California for the national convention,” Beale said. “I cannot be a representative for the taxpayers and sit there and support that. I can't do it. I won't do it.”
The National School Boards Association conference is in San Diego from April 12-15.
Rupert said it costs the district about $2,300 to send a board member to the conference, including airfare, hotel and registration.
“How could he possibly think that it would be OK for him to have the taxpayers pay for him to go to a national convention?” Beale said. “I had no clue that this was going on. None of us did.”
“What's the difference from going to San Diego or going to Hershey?” Lang said.
He said Beale goes to the state school boards' convention in Hershey every year and the district pays for the hotel, convention costs and driving mileage.
The airfare for the San Diego conference is $375, according to Rupert. The driving reimbursement is 56.5 cents per mile, so the district pays $251 for a board member to make the 445-mile round trip to Hershey.
“I will not bill the district a penny for food,” Lang said. “The only thing (the district pays for) is the airfare and the hotel.”
Lang said he would not answer any other questions on the advice of his attorney, saying he is considering legal action against Beale.
But, he said, Beale has had her own tax problems with the district.
According to a case file from District Judge Carolyn Bengel's office, Beale and her husband, William, settled a 2009 civil complaint filed by Highlands over $2,481 in unpaid wage taxes from 2003 and 2004. The Beales paid $2,588 for the taxes and court costs.Beale said the case resulted from her husband working in Newton Falls, Ohio, and his wage taxes being withheld and paid there. She said her husband asked Newton Falls to forward the taxes back home. She said they believed that was done, but it wasn't.
When asked about Lang's tax situation, board President Carrie Fox said, “I believe people need to pay their taxes. But I don't know everybody's personal problems and personal issues. I don't know what‘s going on in (Lang's) life.”
She said Lang does a good job serving on the board. She also noted he served as Highlands girls basketball head coach in 2012-13 — without pay.
“I‘ve told the board it is not up to us to judge him,” Fox said. “It is up to the electors out in the Valley, the people who elect him,” she said.
Beale said she's not judging Lang.
“I just don't think he should take this trip,” she said.
Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.