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Council could consider new fees for landlords in Jeannette

| Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

At this week's council work session, Mayor Richard Jacobelli said he would like to consider imposing some sort of a business privilege tax on those who own rental property in the City of Jeannette.

“I would like to open it up to discussion,” Jacobelli said, adding that he has had talks on the subject with Mark Schuster at Turnkey Taxes, the company that is helping the city to collect its unpaid business privilege tax.

Jacobelli said Schuster plans to meet with council this month to explain how the company could cross reference various lists to see if there are taxes that remain unpaid or uncollected in the city. The goal, Jacobelli said, is to increase revenues for the city.

Bill Bedont, council's finance chairman, said the City of Connellsville enacted a law in 2009 called the “Landlord Registration and Occupancy Ordinance” that requires landlords to register their properties, submit to inspections and update the city on how many people live there. There are fees associated with these regulations. The ordinance can be read online at www.connellsville.org/cityhall/ordinances/landlord.

City solicitor Scott Avolio said council needs to decide if it is looking to enact a similar registration and inspection law, which would require fees, or if, as Jacobelli said, it was looking to tax landlords on their rental property income.

“There should be a fee on it like it's a business,” said Jacobelli.

Mark Levander, who owns rental properties in the city, said he does pay business privilege tax on his rental properties but that some landlords may not. He suggested the city look to enforce that aspect of the tax rather than enacting a new tax.

Avolio said it sounds like “we have a business privilege tax already but we're not collecting on rental revenue.

“Is it dollars that aren't being taxed or is it safety...what is the goal?”

Jacobelli indicated that right now the focus is on dollars that are going untaxed, especially in the form of Earned Income Taxes that aren't being collected from residents because the city doesn't know they're living here. Part of setting up a registration and inspection law in the city would be that landlords would have to update the city on who lives in their properties so those residents' earnings would be taxed as part of the EIT.

Levander said that Michael Korns, an attorney in Avolio's law firm who also attends to council matters, is working on a law similar to the Connellsville ordinance requiring registrations and inspections of rental properties and that council should wait until that law is prepared before deciding to enact something new.

Avolio said part of the issue that will face the city is that the work of getting landlords to register and keeping lists updated will not fall to Turnkey Taxes. Someone in the city will need to keep that information up to date and Avolio said it will be labor intensive.

“It's always easy to follow people who follow the law, but that's not the issue,” Avolio said, indicating it would be difficult to keep up-to-date records if the landlords fail to register.

Bedont said in Connellsville it is the code enforcement officer's responsibility.

“We need a full-time person to do this,” Levander said. “It is a full-time job.”

Jacobelli said that next year, once the new city manager is hired — which council was expected to do last night in a meeting that ended too late for this week's edition — the city can focus on bringing in a full-time code enforcement officer.

“I would like to figure out a way to make sure that people who buy (property) in the city are held responsible for it,” said Jacobelli.

Kristie Linden is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at klinden@tribweb.com or 724-838-5154.

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