Jeannette Council needs to appoint new tax collector
After months of criticism about a recent decision in his office and a successful bid by a write-in candidate to compete for his position in the November election, Sam Casino resigned as Jeannette's city treasurer early last week.
“On (June 18), Mr. Casino came into the office to see me and said he will resign his position effective July 8,” said Michael Minyon, city clerk. “He's not going to be available at work because he believes he has enough vacation time (leading up to July 8).”
Casino, who took office in 2002, gave the city no official reason for his resignation, according to Minyon.
Mayor Robert Carter said it will be city council's responsibility to appoint a new tax collector within 30 days of that resignation date.
“I would like to get it done as soon as possible, I would not like to drag it out the whole 30 days,” said Carter. “We will have a public discussion at the work session on July 8 and hopefully have something in place that week.”Initially, Casino, a Democrat, was running for re-election unopposed this year. During the primary, Republican Michael Nestico earned enough write-in votes to appear on the ballot in the general election.
Nestico, an attorney, currently collects past-due garbage bills for the city.
“If elected, (Nestico) would continue those duties and collecting past due taxes in his role as tax collector,” said Carter.
Nestico said he found Casino's resignation to be a bit surprising, but he doesn't believe it will change anything going forward with his campaign for the office.
City Solicitor Scott Avolio is investigating how the resignation affects the upcoming election.
“We're looking at what the legal aspects are in this whole thing,” said Carter. “His (Casino's) name is still on the ballot for November. We have to find out if it gets removed for November.
“If he's resigned, does it preclude him from running in November or is he just resigning for 2013? We need to look into (whether the city) contacts the election bureau or is it something Mr. Casino needs to do to remove his name from the ballot? Those are questions that need to be answered.”
In the meantime, Carter said he will suggest Nestico's name for council's consideration when the appointment is discussed next month.
“He's already expressed interest by running a write-in campaign,” said Carter. “He would be the most likely candidate for us to direct our attention to. At election time, if he gets the nod from the people he'll be ahead of the game and able to hit the ground running in January instead of playing catch up.
“If we were to put in someone else, then he would have to make system changes in January from not one previous tax collector, but two. It would make a smooth transition easier,” Carter said.
Nestico said whether it is in January or much sooner, he is ready to assume the responsibilities of the city treasurer.
“If council decides to appoint me, I am fully prepared to take the office,” Nestico said. “I had previously begun taking steps to prepare for this position and I would welcome the opportunity to get started earlier than expected.”
Nestico said when he learned Casino was running unopposed he decided to try the write-in campaign.
“I felt that this office badly needed a change. I decided to step up and be the one to repair this office,” Nestico said. “I'm a lifelong resident of the city. We are facing difficult times right now, but I believe we can overcome these current issues.”
Earlier this year, Casino decided to stop the practice of sending real estate tax bills to mortgage companies for payment through owners' escrow accounts and instead sent taxpayers letters indicating the bills would be sent directly to them. Taxpayers then needed to forward those bills along to their mortgage companies so the bills could be paid.
Several council members and Carter have spoken out against this decision and indicated Casino did not inform them of it.
Councilman Bill Bedont has said at several council meetings this spring that the decision has impacted the city's tax collection and that real estate taxes were coming in more slowly than in previous years.
Casino said, in a press release, he needed to make the change due to staffing cuts in his office.
Council has laid off several employees from most departments throughout the city in the past few years in an attempt to fix Jeannette's ongoing financial crisis. Many employees have also taken pay cuts.
In the release, Casino said he had three full-time employees and two part-time workers when he took office 11 years ago. In 2009, a full-time position was eliminated through attrition when an employee retired and in 2012 another full-time job was cut. This year, the office had one full-time employee and one part-timer in addition to Casino.
“I told council that I could not function properly and I would have to change the way we do things,” Casino said in the release. He said sending bills to individual banks was “constant work with updating the computer with people refinancing, etc.”
Carter said the first request council will likely put to the new tax collector will be a return to the practice of sending tax bills to mortgage companies.
“It's much more cost effective for us and it takes a little burden off of the taxpayer, who has just as busy a life as everybody else,” said Carter, who added that he expects the new collector to modernize the office.
For now, there is no official tax collector in the city, Minyon said, but the treasurer's staff remains in place and those employees are able to continue to run the office.
“We're moving forward and we're open for business,” Minyon said.
Carter said city officials plan to make every effort to keep the tax office open during the lunch hours to better accommodate taxpayers.
Casino did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Kristie Linden is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-838-5154.