Monessen council, school board at odds over tax bills
The Monessen School Board on Tuesday continued its resistance on property action requests from the city.
The board unanimously blocked a pair of requests from the city's redevelopment authority to forgive real estate taxes on properties at 18 Elm St. and 255 Schoonmaker Ave.
The dilapidated house at Elm Street was donated to the city by two people who inherited the property but did not pay taxes on it in 2011 and 2012, according to Mayor Mary Jo Smith.
The Schoonmaker property is a vacant lot owned by the redevelopment authority. A delinquent tax bill remains from the previous owner, Smith said.
The Elm Street house is on the city's demolition list.
School Board President Sharon Mauck said she did not want to get into a “tug of war” with the city and that the board wanted to gather more information before acting.
“We want to do things for the betterment of the school district and the city, but it just seems like every time there are properties on (the agenda), we don't know who the bidders are, who the sellers are and we have to wait and find out,” Mauck said.
“We tabled several properties, and the mayor was quoted, as I understand, as saying, ‘We got them anyway.' Well, if they don't need us to vote on it, we'd rather not vote on it.”
District Solicitor John Toohey said delinquent real estate taxes can be exonerated separately by the three taxing bodies: the county, municipality and school district.
“The city and county could go forward and exonerate their taxes,” Toohey said. “It would be the school district's taxes – our slice – that would not be exonerated.”
At its April meeting, the school board tabled motions to act upon several Monessen properties as recommended by the city.
The board tabled another motion to forgive delinquent real estate taxes on the old Health Mart building at 500 Donner Ave.
Contacted after Tuesday's meeting, Smith said the board's actions create one more blockade in the effort to place delinquent properties back on the tax roll.
Smith claims the board had plenty of time to gather information on the properties.
“What the school board needs to do is call the tax bureau or do research, because they're obviously not believing what we're telling them. But if the school thinks they're going to collect those back taxes, they're never going to get it,” Smith said.
“It's not a simple process. We're trying to work our way through it to clean up Monessen, and I can't help it if some people don't understand it.”
Council is expected to act on both properties tonight.
“Nobody will buy the property in a sheriff's sale if it has a lien on it, and it will end up sitting in repository with the county,” Smith said. “It's going to be an expense to the city to demolish, then it's going to sit in repository with a lien for demolition costs. … There's no one benefitting when those properties are sitting there with back taxes.”
The board introduced a proposed 2013-14 general budget that listed expenditures of $13,799,635. Mauck said that if nothing changes, the real estate tax rate will remain at 68 mills.
Seven teacher retirements saved the district $516,450. The district will fill five of the slots by recalling furloughed teachers.
“There's a little bit of give and take on the budget, and our business manager, Linda Powell, did a wonderful job getting it done and keeping things down to a minimum,” Mauck said.
In other action:
• The board appointed Cindy Pawelec to a four-year term as its secretary. It appointed Lee Johnson to a one-year term as treasurer. Pawelec replaces Donna Fantauzzi, and Johnson replaces Maria Scuteri.
• The board recalled furloughed high school history teacher Scott Hillen for the 2013-2014 school year.
• High School Principal Brian Sutherland said the district's seasonal blood drive will be 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday in the large group instruction room.
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.