Experienced politicians face off in Plum tax collector race

| Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Both candidates for Plum tax collector have experience in politics.

The race pits 13-year incumbent Harry Schlegel, a Republican and former councilman, against challenger Jeff Russo, a Democrat who has served on both borough council and the Plum School Board.

The general election is Nov. 5.

Schlegel, 67, said he decided to seek another four-year term because he enjoys helping people, particularly those who face hardships in paying taxes.

“We discuss it (the situation) around the coffee table in my office,” said Schlegel, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.

The borough tax collector is responsible for collecting borough and school district real estate taxes.

The salary and compensation for preparing and mailing tax statements is about $100,000.

Schlegel points to a couple of initiatives he spearheaded over the past decade to help taxpayers including a waiver of a penalty for taxes paid late if the situation is not the taxpayer's fault.

Schlegel said at times tax bills are sent to the wrong address particularly if a taxpayer has paid off the mortgage and taxes previously were paid through the mortgage company.

“The county doesn't update its records quickly,” Schlegel said.

Schlegel also successfully convinced borough council and the school board to institute a payment plan for taxpayers who have a difficult time paying in a lump sum.

Schlegel said the office had 50 payment plans five years ago. Today, Schlegel coordinates 800 payment plans.

Russo, 49, unsuccessfully sought the tax collector post several years ago.

Russo said his 26-year career helping clients with financial planning would lend well to the position.

“Taxes are a part of someone's expenses,” said Russo, a financial sales consultant.

Russo said if elected, he would decide if he would be a part-time or full-time tax collector.

“I would make sure the office is always staffed,” Russo said.

Russo, a former councilman and school board member, also said he can work well with members of both parties.

“We may not always agree on issues, but we can agree to disagree,” Russo said.

Russo also said he would be open to instituting improvements to the operation of the office if the changes would help taxpayers.

Russo also would be agreeable to the tax office being moved from the Plum Borough Municipal Authority building to the borough offices.

Both buildings are in the municipal complex.

Council members have been considering moving the office to save the $350 a month rent the borough pays to the municipal authority.

Schlegel would like the office to remain in the municipal authority building because he thinks the space is needed to accommodate taxpayers who pay their bills in person.

Councilman Michael Dell said the office space issue is a topic of the 2014 budget discussions.

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400 ext. 8753 or kzapf@tribweb.com.

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