Blairsville Borough extends grace period for 2013 taxes
Blairsville Council has extended a grace period until June 1 for borough taxpayers to settle per capita bills that have mistakenly been recorded as being unpaid.
Borough manager Tim Evans recommended the delay in forwarding such accounts for delinquent collection while Blairsville officials deal with “a myriad of issues” stemming from the brief tenure of Carol Tarasovich as the borough tax collector last year.
Though Tarasovich voiced objections to its findings in interviews with The Dispatch, the auditing firm of Wessel and Company, in a review of Tarasovich's office through November 2013, reported such problems as checks being received for payment of taxes but not being cashed in a timely manner. As of last week, the firm was in the process of conducting a complete audit of the former tax collector's office through December.
Tarasovich was appointed by council early last year to fill the tax collector post vacated by the resignation of Joan Baker. Tarasovich was elected in November to continue in the post but subsequently resigned. Baker has since been appointed to return to her former post, at least through the end of 2015 and has indicated she intends to run for election to another term.
Last fall and continuing into the current year, Blairsville taxpayers have complained to borough officials about problems such as not receiving receipts from the tax collector or not having a record that checks they submitted for payment had been cashed.
As a result, for such unsettled accounts, Evans said, the borough will delay until June 1 turning over as delinquent unpaid per capita taxes to Berkheimer Associates for further collection efforts. At that point, he noted, the taxpayer would be subject to paying an additional $25 fee.
“That will give us some time to sort this out,” he said. “I want to err on the side of the taxpayer.”
He said the borough would accept payments of unresolved taxes at the discount, face or late rate, depending on when a taxpayer had proof the initial payment attempt was made. He said evidence of the pertinent check missing on a bank statement would be one form of acceptable proof.
Setting no time limit, council also voted to work with county officials to delay placing liens on properties with unreconciled 2013 real estate tax bills — again with proof that payment was attempted.
According to his most recent count, Evans said the borough's 2013 tax receipts were at least $8,000 behind what it collected in 2012 — down from an initial gap of $22,000 he reported last fall.
Recently, Evans estimated, he has been devoting about 20 hours per week addressing the concerns of taxpayers whose accounts have not been reconciled.
Borough officials questioned whether Evans' wages for those hours, as well as any remaining shortfall in tax receipts, could be charged to Tarasovich's bonding company.
Solicitor Bob Bell advised that the borough should “turn everything into the bonding company and let them sort it out.”
New sewage rates, billing noted
Board member Terry Dibiase notified council that the Blairsville Municipal Authority is rolling out an updated billing system that will provide customers the option of paying their bills with a credit card and online. They may also access the system to review past bills and to have payments automatically transferred from a personal checking account.
“Our old billing system was 10 years old,” Dibiase said. “This new one is more flexible. We can do a lot of the changes ourselves.”
Councilman Jim Mollo quizzed Dibiase about an increase in the monthly sewer rate charged to authority customers, and Dibiase responded that the rate hike was triggered in part by debt the authority incurred for recent improvements. “We ended up borrowing $600,000 on our own,” Dibiase said.
Also, he said, the authority is putting funds aside for a planned update of its water treatment plant, which was last renovated 23 years ago.
Dibiase said the authority has increased the monthly sewage service fee for customers by $1 per each thousand gallons of water consumed. Ron Hood, executive director of BMA, later confirmed that the monthly base rate has increased from $11.40 to $12.40 per thousand gallons.
Dibiase noted the typical customer uses 2,000 gallons of water per month and will see a $2 increase in the sewage bill. The rate is on top of a flat monthly sewage service charge of $9.60.
Additionally, BMA has increased its flat monthly rate for residential garbage collection by $1, from $15.60 to $16.60, subject to a three-can limit. The rate for rental of commercial dumpsters has gone up by 10 percent.
BMA's monthly water rates remain unchanged: a usage charge of $4.75 per thousand gallons; a service charge of $6.40; and an infrastructure fee of $2.50.
Councilman Jeff Marshall questioned why BMA has a stock of numerous manholes stored at a property near the Specialty Bar plant on Martha Street.
Dibiase explained the authority had ordered the manholes in bulk to save money when completing an engineering design for sewer lines in the borough. But, when the lines later were excavated, he said, it was discovered many of the existing manholes were in “a lot better shape” than had been believed and didn't need replaced. The result was the supply of leftover manholes.
“You can't send them back,” Dibiase said, while noting a few have been sold to neighboring boroughs and authorities. He said several of the remaining manholes likely will be put to use in the borough this summer, when BMA plans to replace some lines including one that runs parallel to Sloan Alley near Martha.
Dibiase also requested that council pass an ordinance proposed by BMA that would require dye-testing of improved and sewered property at the time it is sold —to ensure that no storm water is infiltrating the sanitary sewer system on the property, or to guide required plans for remedying such infiltration. Where infiltration is found, the property owner would have to sign a contract with a plumber to remove any non-complying sewer connections and post cash security to cover the work. Violations of the ordinance would be subject to a fine of $500 or up to 30 days in jail.
Dibiase urged council to act promptly on the proposed ordinance before the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) decides to crack down to ensure compliance. Excess infiltration of storm water during heavy rains can overtax a community's treatment plant, causing raw sewage to bypass the facility and flow into public waterways downstream.
“DEP is starting to talk about a consent agreement,” Dibiase said.
Borough officials replied that a committee headed by council member Paul Fodor will review the ordinance proposed by BMA along with sample ordinances from several other communities to devise the best version for Blairsville.
Fodor indicated council is concerned about the potential cost borough property owners could face to comply with the proposed requirements.. “There's things that need to be added to this ordinance,” Fodor said. “We need to try to get it right. It's what's best for the residents, to ease their burden.”
Council formally appointed one of its newest members, Ab Dettorre, to a new term on the borough's civil service commission. While a seat on the commission remains vacant, Evans noted the board, which also includes Irv Lindsey, now has the needed two-member quorum to meet and take any needed action.
After recently applying for two other vacant seats, Lindsey was appointed to the codes appeal board and to the borough planning commission.
But two spots on the five-member planning commission remain to be filled as council accepted, with regret, the resignations of longtime members Jerry Seitz, who chaired the panel, and Tom Nastase. Other members include Leann Chaney and Sam Dotts.
Two seats also remain to be filled on the zoning hearing board.
Evans said he would confer with the board of the Blairsville Community Development Authority and its director, Chaney, on a needs assessment to determine proposed projects to submit for funding through the 2014 state Community Development Block Grant. He said project proposals are to be submitted by May 1 to the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development, which administers the block grant locally.
At Evans' recommendation, council rejected bids received for purchase of unwanted borough vehicles and agreed to advertise for a second round of bids. It was noted that high bids of $559 for a 2004 Ford Crown Victoria and $275 for a 1997 Ford Taurus were well below the Kelley Blue Book values. No offers were cited for a 1988 GMC pickup truck.
Poll workers needed
Mayor Ron Evanko noted county officials are looking for workers to man the polls in Blairsville's old American Legion Building (the current community rec center) for the May 20 primary election in the borough's Second Ward. Workers are paid between $120 and $145 for taking care of responsibilities at the polling place from 6 a.m., an hour before it opens to the public, until about 9:30 p.m.
Anyone interested in serving as a poll worker should contact Robin Maryai, the chief county clerk, at 724-465-3805 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays. A total of five poll workers are needed.
Evanko noted he will be unable to attend the next borough council meeting, on April 15, because he will be in Harrisburg that day, to accept the 2014 Governor's Award for Local Government Excellence, in recognition of his contribution to local government. A 3 p.m. ceremony is planned in the East Wing Rotunda of the state Capitol. Evanko served on the Blairsville council for more than a decade before being elected mayor in November.
It was noted that the borough shade tree commission is looking for citizens to support plans to plant 10 trees along Maple Avenue through the commission's Adopt-a-Tree program. Chaney, who also serves on the shade tree commission, said the panel has identified three potential tree varieties for the plantings, focusing on those suitable for an urban environment.
Evanko expressed some doubt about the Maple Avenue tree plan. He recalled that, in a past survey, residents on the street overwhelmingly rejected having trees planted there. According to Evanko, there was concern that space between the sidewalk and the curb along the street was too narrow to accommodate trees.
Evans said letters are being sent to residents along several blocks of East Brown Street, west of Grandview Avenue, to solicit input on ideas the borough parking authority is considering for addressing the direction of parking there. Council recently discussed a proposal to make that section of the street one-way westbound, or downhill, so that motorists could more easily pull out onto the street when it is coated with snow and ice, without parking against traffic
Easter egg hunt, 5K planned
In parks and recreation matters, Evans announced that the annual Easter egg hunt behind the Blairsville Community Recreation Center will be held at 10 a.m. April 12 for children age 12 or younger. The event is sponsored by WyoTech and the Friends of Blairsville Parks and Recreation Foundation Ladies Auxiliary.
The annual Memorial Day John Yelenic 5K Run/Walk will begin at 8 a.m. May 26, with race day registration and check-in starting at 7 a.m. at the Blairsville Community Center Pavilion. The entrance fee is $18 until May 10, $23 afterward.
Separate awards for men and women will be given to the top three finishers among walkers, the top three finishers overall among runners, and the top three runners in each of six age brackets. Registration forms can be obtained and filled out, accompanied by full payment, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays at the community center. T-shirts will be guaranteed to pre-registrants only.
Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or firstname.lastname@example.org.