Blairsville tax collector resigns, cites 'hostile' environment
Blairsville Council Tuesday accepted Carol Tarasovich's resignation as borough tax collector and made plans to fill the vacancy with an appointment.
In a letter to the borough dated Jan. 14, Tarasovich stated that she “had no desire to continue to serve in this position. The environment has become too hostile to serve effectively.”
Tarasovich, who was herself appointed early last year, was elected Nov. 5 to continue in the tax collector position. The new appointee will serve through the end of 2015.
The borough and two other entities that receive tax payments through the borough collector's office — Indiana County and the Blairsville-Saltsburg School District — commissioned the district's auditing firm, Wessel and Co., to review Tarasovich's performance for April through November 2013 after noting the tax dollars she'd turned over to the three bodies during that period had lagged behind amounts received during the same period the previous year.
At Tuesday's council meeting, borough manager Tim Evans reported that Blairsville's tax receipts for 2013 were $57,000 less than collections for the previous year. Business manager Eric Kocsis said on Wednesday that the school district's receipts from tax accounts in the borough were behind by $133,900.
Wessel's report, discussed at this month's school board meeting, found fault with Tarasovich's collection operations in eight areas — each of which Tarasovich has disputed.
The auditing firm faulted Tarasovich for not promptly depositing all checks she received for payment of taxes. It indicated it discovered more than $268,000 in undeposited checks, some dating from late August, that were in various locations in Tarasovich's office or reportedly at her home, which the firm prepared for deposit on Dec. 17.
Tarasovich has denied that she kept taxpayers' checks in her home or delayed depositing them. She noted some of the checks in question were payable to previous tax collector Joan Baker.
Wessel also said it reviewed more than 50 complaints from taxpayers including reports of phone calls to Tarasovich that went unanswered, proofs of tax payment that were not received and that “some real estate closing dates were delayed because of the tax collector's lack of response.”
At Tuesday's council meeting, a complaint was heard from borough resident Pam Sulkowski of Ridgeview Circle, who said she'd left her check for tax payment last month in a drop box at Tarasovich's office, had confirmation from Tarasovich on Dec. 26 that it had been received but was still waiting for the check to clear the bank.
In a Wednesday interview with The Dispatch, Tarasovich said she couldn't recall details of that particular payment but added, “I don't have anybody's checks or payments anymore. I haven't for quite a while... All the checks have been deposited.”
“I am completely settled and balanced with the school,” Tarasovich said, indicating she'd turned in her final 2013 tax payment reports to the district the previous week.
In an interview later on Wednesday, Kocsis acknowledged he'd received final December tax reports from Tarasovich but indicated he had yet to sign off on the amount of uncollected accounts from the borough that will be turned over to the county as delinquent.
Tarasovich said Wednesday she was working on clearing final 2013 tax reports with the county and borough.
Despite the many reports of complaints, Tarasovich said she had “hundreds of friendly people in my office” whom she said were satisfied with the service she provided.
Tarasovich said she'd considered resigning as early as November, but “I thought I'd see it through.
“I've lived here all my life and thought I could offer a service to my community, and it hasn't turned out that way... It's just not worth the hassle. I had a nice life before this job. I'd like to go back to it.”
Forms are available at the borough office for those wishing to apply for the vacant tax collector position. Council made tentative plans to hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. Feb. 6 to consider applicants, with candidates to be interviewed in public session.
Also Tuesday, council approved resolutions to accept state transportation funding for upgrading Market Street traffic signals at the intersections of Stewart and Morrow streets. Council also agreed to take on future maintenance of the signals, valued at about $250,000 per intersection, once they are installed.
Evans said the new signals — similar to one at Walnut Street — will be suspended above the center of the street, improving safety. He noted many motorists have a tendency to ignore the existing signals positioned at the sides of the street because their attention was focused on the more prominent light at Walnut. A traffic volume report will determine if the Spring Street intersection warrants replacement of the older-style signal there with a new suspended one.
Police Chief Michael Allman said a reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for damaging or removing street name signs from 33 locations overnight on Jan. 17 and 18.
Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or firstname.lastname@example.org.