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McKeesport controller to school board: Sue for taxes

| Thursday, May 23, 2013, 4:51 a.m.

McKeesport controller Ray Malinchak wants to know why the McKeesport Area School District has not taken action to collect nearly $50,000 in liens against the building that now houses city hall.

Malinchak, who said that he was speaking as a taxpayer and resident rather than as a city official, brought his concern to the school board Wednesday night.

The city purchased the former Sky Bank and Bank of McKeesport building at 500 Fifth Ave. for $1 in May 2006.

But the building remained listed as taxable real estate because of a clerical error in recording the deed when ownership was transferred to the city seven years ago.

Huntington Bank erroneously was listed as the holder until a revised deed was recorded on March 6 of this year.

McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko said that collecting taxes on a property that school directors know is owned by the city, and therefore tax-exempt, likely was not a priority for the board.

But Malinchak questioned why not.

“I would like a status report on whether the school district is going to pursue delinquent taxes on the city building at 500 Fifth Ave.,” he said. “It's probably accumulated close to $50,000 with interest.”

District Solicitor Gary Matta said his law partner Jack Cambest has discussed the issue with McKeesport Solicitor J. Jason Elash.

“They are filing the appropriate paperwork to address the issue of delinquent taxes,” Matta said.

Malinchak told Matta he was jumping ahead in the public discussion.

“Let's take a snapshot of what exists right now,” Malinchak said. “You have filed the appropriate paper. The liens are on the prothonotary's list for five or six years, and there's a certain amount of money owed.”

Malinchak said a clerical error should not affect liens that already have accumulated.

“You have an obligation to collect $50,000,” he said. “As a taxpayer, I want to know why you're not executing on the liens.

“And if Huntington Bank wants to take action against the city of McKeesport, because for some mysterious reason it took six [sic] years to record a deed, that's an issue between Huntington Bank and the city of McKeesport. Your issue right now is with Huntington Bank,” Malinchak said. “They're the ones you filed the liens against. Why aren't you collecting?”

“You and I both know the city is involved in this issue,” Matta said. “At this point, the school district and the city are trying to cooperate to get that issue resolved.”

Matta declined Malinchak's request to describe potential legal resolutions, because litigation “may or may not transpire.”

Malinchak asked why the district's delinquent tax collector is not acting on the liens.

Matta said that question was not his to answer, but it may be because the property is owned by the city.

Malinchak asked why the board is silent on the issue, and Matta reiterated that directors are not at liberty to discuss potential litigation.

Cherepko, who was not at the meeting when Malinchak made his comments, confirmed later that the deed recording error had been corrected.

“The bottom line is that there was a clerical error,” the mayor said. “The deed was filed, but the description happened to be wrong. For whatever reason it wasn't done, but it is now officially recorded. Our engineer provided a description that satisfied Allegheny County.”

Elash, who did not attend the meeting, said the delay was based on incorrect lot and block numbers for city hall.

“Now that that has been resolved, I am in the process of setting up a meeting with Mr. Matta and the county in order to get a petition signed to exonerate all of the back taxes and make the property tax-exempt going forward,” he said.

Cherepko followed Malinchak to the administration building lobby when the meeting concluded, asking why he would make a public spectacle of an issue that is being resolved.

“Once again, our controller, who is supposed to be a self-proclaimed watchdog of the city, why he would come in here and report to a school board about them coming after us for taxes is absolutely beyond me,” Cherepko said. “It's another example of some people thriving on negativity because of political vindictiveness, vendettas or their own political self-interests.”

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1956, or jvertullo@tribweb.com.

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