Full audit possible for Blairsville tax collector, who disputes initial findings
Blairsville-Saltsburg School District has agreed to conduct a comprehensive year-end audit of Blairsville Borough tax collector Carol Tarasovich if officials aren't satisfied that her records match the tax receipts she's turning over for 2013.
The school board voted at its Wednesday meeting to pay the district's auditing firm, Johnstown-based Wessel and Company, up to $10,000 to perform the audit, if it's deemed necessary. The cost would be split on a prorated basis with the borough and Indiana County, which also receive tax revenue through Tarasovich's office.
Blairsville-Saltsburg business manager Eric Kocsis told the school board the audit was recommended by Wessel as a possible next step after the firm recently completed an initial report on Tarasovich's tax operations from April through November of last year. That examination, which is summarized in a Dec. 30 report, was prompted when officials with all three taxing bodies noticed a substantial decline in tax payments being turned over by Tarasovich compared to amounts turned in the previous year by her predecessor in the tax office.
As of Wednesday, Kocsis said, the school district's tax receipts from Blairsville Borough were trailing by about $289,000 behind the amount collected there in 2012 — the equivalent of 3 mills worth of district property taxes.
Kocsis noted he was awaiting Tarasovich's final report from Dec. 31 of tax bills that had been paid at the end of 2013 and a check for the accompanying tax receipts.
“The Dec. 31 report was due Jan. 10. We have not received that to date,” Kocsis said Wednesday.
As a result, Kocsis said, the district could charge Tarasovich a late fee of $25 per day, up to a maximum of $250 per month.
In a Thursday phone interview, Tarasovich indicated she had planned to complete her monthly December report at the same time she completed a year-end tax report. But she said her appointment to meet with county officials to reconcile her tax records for 2013 and close her books for the year was rescheduled to Jan. 17.
“I wasn't able to get my report done in time because (Wessel) had my records for three weeks” as part of its review, she added.
Tarasovich said she will not be concerned if the district and the other taxing bodies opt to subject her office to a full audit.
“I don't care,” she said. “There's nothing wrong with my records. There's no money that has been put in the wrong place.”
“I have over 30 years of accounting experience,” she noted.
After closing her 2013 tax records at the courthouse, Kocsis said Tarasovich would then need to reconcile her records with both the school district and the borough, asking himself and borough manager Tim Evans, respectively, to sign off on the amounts to proceed to collection.
“She has to come to my office and Tim's office to get a signature on a county report saying we agree that what she's turning over is delinquent,” Kocsis explained.
According to Kocsis, “If we see discrepancies or we're missing money,” it could trigger the additional audit by Wessel and Co.
Wessel and Co. already identified eight areas were it found fault with Tarasovich's procedures in the initial April-November review — findings that Kocsis summarized at Wednesday's school board meeting.
According to Kocsis, Tarasovich was faulted for:
• Disorganized and incomplete records.
There's five instances that were severe enough to have a finding in that area,” Kocsis said.
In its report, Wessel and Co. states that it noted 43 deposits of tax receipts that did not have a corresponding ledger sheet. According to the report, “without the supporting documentation, it is unknown who paid their taxes or when the taxes were paid.”
Tarasovich claims that she offered to provide the ledger sheets in question to representatives of Wessel and the district. But, she said, “They never got them.”
• Taxes received and not reported to the taxing authorities.
• Tax receipts that were deposited late.
“That means (Tarasovich) wasn't depositing the checks on a timely basis. Subsequently, we're not getting our money on time,” Kocsis said.
Wessel and Co. indicated, during the course of its review of Tarasovich's office, it discovered more than $268,000 worth of undeposited checks, some dated as early as Aug. 30, that were in various locations in the office or that were reported to be in the collector's home. Using these checks, the firm prepared a bank deposit.
Tarasovich denies that she kept checks for tax accounts at her home.
She said that the deposit Wessel prepared included checks that she had not placed in the bank because they had been issued for the previous tax year, 2012, or were made payable to the previous tax collector, Joan Baker.
According to Tarasovich, the 2012 checks “weren't supposed to be cashed. Those had to be returned to the people who sent them.”
According to the Wessel report, the checks the firm reviewed included a little more than $13,000 in payments that were issued to Baker instead of Tarasovich. Kocsis acknowledged that he was able to obtain a one-time bank permission to have Baker sign the checks so they could be processed.
• Bank statements that were not reconciled.
A review of the collector's checkbooks revealed check registers that did not include all deposits and checks paid, Wessel said in its report.
According to Tarasovich, Wessel representatives reviewed her check register for school district tax accounts but did not take those for the county and borough accounts.
“How can they say they weren't balanced when they didn't even have them?” she questioned.
• Lost tax payments.
“We had a number of complaints that checks (for payment) have been mailed and they've never been cleared,” Kocsis said.
Tarasovich repeatedly has denied that she delayed turning over tax receipts or depositing checks that were submitted for payment.
• Not being responsive to taxpayers, mortgage companies and closing companies.
“I've had complaints from all three areas across the board,” Kocsis said, making reference to the difficulty some have reported in getting in touch with Tarasovich concerning tax matters.
“Her answering machine, you can't leave a message. It just tells you the office hours and to try to get back to her,” he noted.
Wessel and Co. reviewed more than 50 such taxpayer complaints and also indicated that “some real estate closing dates were delayed because of the tax collector's lack of response.”
Tarasovich said she'd been unaware of any complaints about delayed closings.
• An unauthorized extension of the period for paying taxes at face value, before an additional penalty would be added to the bill.
Kocsis cited an instance when Tarasovich allegedly “extended the face period by two days without getting any approval” — which he noted runs counter to the guidelines in a state tax collector's manual.
Tarasovich said, for the convenience of taxpayers, she extended the deadline for payments at face value from a Sunday in mid-December to the following Tuesday — the first day that week when she would be avaliable in her tax office.
“I was told it is a common practice and is up to the tax collector,” she said.
• Interest not paid on time to taxing bodies.
Kocsis pointed out that the taxing bodies are to receive interest accrued on tax payments that the tax collector deposited in the bank.
“She has interest-bearing accounts, and we should be getting that interest on a monthly basis,” he said.
Tarasovich said she'd been advised, to the contrary, that she didn't needed to turn over the interest payments until the end of the tax year.
“Sometimes its only a few cents, it's minimal,” she said of the accrued interest.
Tarasovich also has argued that collections ran behind the normal schedule this past year because she had a late start in getting her tax office up and running after being appointed early in the year.
Tarasovich was named by borough council to replace Joan Baker, who retired as tax collector. Tarasovich was elected to continue as Blairsville's tax collector in November's general election.
Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or firstname.lastname@example.org.