Monessen outs property tax deadbeats
By Rick Bruni Jr.
Published: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013, 12:51 a.m.
In what Monessen Mayor Mary Jo Smith and council are calling “a pledge to be more transparent,” the city has published on its website a list of property owners who have failed to pay 2012 property taxes.
The site lists hundreds of properties for which tax money is owed, along with the principal owners and amount due, as complied by the Westmoreland County Tax Claim Bureau. The unpaid taxes for last year total $247,406.
“That's a little over 4 mills,” said Smith, equating the unpaid tax money to property tax revenue. “People can see that 4 mills of taxes are not being paid to the city.
“We could be paving streets and demolishing abandoned houses. We operate on the expectation that we get taxes from everyone that owns property in Monessen. That's part of the transparency I promised when I ran for mayor.”
The list, announced at a Monday work session, is available at www.cityofmonessen.com. Click on the link “2012 Unpaid Taxes.” The list of 774 properties and owners comprises individuals, businesses and private investment companies such as limited liability corporations.
“If they know everybody knows and it's common knowledge … maybe it will generate people to do what's right,” Smith said.
“As property owners, they demand services. When it snows, they want to be the first ones to have their streets cleaned, but the guys cleaning your streets deserve a paycheck.
“We've cut our budget to bare bones, but we're still paying to provide services even though these people have not paid their taxes on time.”
Smith said red lines will be placed on Internet listings after taxes are paid.
Smith and city clerk Rosalie Nicksich indicated the city previously printed a list of properties with unpaid taxes in the newspaper, but the method was too costly. The website has been available since last fall.
Smith and city administrator John Harhai indicated the city plans, within the next three weeks, to post on the website those with unpaid garbage collection fees. Smith said city officials double-checked the county list to verify the taxes were not paid before being placed on line.
“In the past, everyone was afraid to publish names to offend somebody, but I don't think it's fair to people who do pay their taxes,” Smith said.
“I don't like to offend people, and that is not our intention. But you can't pick and choose what you want to be transparent about. … And I believe you offend the rest of the residents of Monessen by not paying your fair share.”
In other business, the city will conduct a public hearing 5 p.m. Tuesday in conference room B on the fourth floor at the municipal complex to hear public feedback on the reallocation of grant money. Council plans to use $23,504 to help transform the former city hall on Third Street to the proposed Monessen Cultural and Arts Center.
Unless persuaded otherwise, Smith said council anticipates adopting the change at its 6 p.m. Wednesday business meeting.
“The CDBG monies allocated in previous years under certain line items that were not used, we're reapplying them to another line item,” Smith said. “If you don't use that money in five-year increments, then you lose the money.”
The Community Development Block Grant is a federal program. Money for Monessen is administered by Westmoreland County.
Smith read aloud an anonymous written complaint that city road crews were plowing the private driveway of the Monessen Elks lodge.
Smith said the accusation was true and that she put a stop to the practice, which she said was taking place based on an “agreement from a previous administration.”
“We notified (the Elks) first, because I didn't want to leave them stranded, and I don't want to hurt their business. But it's not fair to the citizens that we plow and salt a private driveway,” Smith said. “We either do it for all businesses or we do it for none, and we obviously can't afford to do it for all.”
Smith said the two exceptions are for churches being used for funeral services and also the Monessen Food Pantry lot at 113 Donner Ave. to maintain a safe potential landing zone for medical helicopters.
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-684-2635.
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