$1.6 million owed to Jeannette in taxes; unpaid bills go back to 2005
By Richard Gazarik
Published: Saturday, June 15, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Ten property owners in Jeannette owe more than $1.6 million in unpaid real estate taxes to the city, school district and Westmoreland County, according to tax records. Mayor Robert Carter said the delinquent tax money would help to ease the financial straits of the city, which started this year with a $500,000 deficit.
Some delinquent tax bills date as far back as 2005.
The largest deadbeat is the condemned Monsour Medical Center on Route 30, which owes more than $825,000 since it was placed on tax rolls nearly two years ago, according to records at the Westmoreland County Tax Claims Bureau, which is responsible for collecting delinquent taxes.
Until the medical center closed in 2006, the property had been exempt from paying taxes because it was a nonprofit corporation.
City attorney Scott Avolio said Jeannette never will see any of the overdue tax revenue from Monsour. The city has been unable to determine who is legally responsible for the structure and no one in the Monsour family, from the former board of directors of the hospital or with the Monsour Medical Foundation is willing to accept responsibility, Avolio said.
Records show the next three largest tax delinquents in Jeannette are:
• The former Jeannette Glass plant owned by Zion Bullitt Avenue Ltd., which owes more than $310,000. The company president is 85-year-old New York City businessman Abe Zion.
• The Rufus Corp., owned by businessman Frank Trigona, which owes more than $259,000. Trigona personally owes more than $57,000. Conversely, the city owes $235,000 to Trigona and his attorney after he successfully sued Jeannette.
• Charles and Jacqueline Schade of Irwin, who owe nearly $46,000 in property taxes on rental properties.
City treasurer Sam Casino said delinquent taxpayers owe the city nearly $285,000 in 2012 property taxes, while the county is due $182,000 in delinquent taxes from last year.
The Jeannette School District is the largest recipient of tax revenue, said Casino, who collects more than $3.8 million annually for the three taxing bodies. The district is owed more than $752,000 in 2012 property taxes, he said.
If the city received some of the back taxes, “it definitely would contribute to the budget or allow us to put some money in the bank,” Carter said. “It would give us an opportunity to do some stuff with our infrastructure.”
Councilman Bill Bedont, who oversees city finances, said the uncollected tax revenue could “put us back to square one.”
In addition to the top four deadbeats, dozens of other city property owners owe back taxes, ranging from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to records.
That list includes the city of Jeannette, which owes more than $11,000 in taxes on several lots it owns. Avolio said the city owns the property where row houses were demolished by the Jeannette Redevelopment Authority.
Records show outstanding tax bills for city property owned by:
• Traval Contractors Supply Inc., $26,175.05. The company repairs heavy machinery.
• Abdur Rehman of Bergenfield, N.J., who owes $24,611.31 on a rental property.
• Minh Truong, $19,173.36. The owner of Computer Clinic in the city owes taxes on a rental property.
• Daniel Ruoff, $14,808.92. He owns Ruoff Construction and several rental properties.
• Robert Wilding of North Fort Myers, Fla., $13,799.39 on the shuttered Jeannette Antique Mall.
• Charles Lewis of Greensburg, $13,656, for one property.
City officials hope to eventually collect on the former Jeannette Glass property. Zion stopped paying taxes on the 13.2-acre tract three years ago, prompting the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp. to bid $305,000 for the property at a tax sale.
Zion appealed, alleging the county did not give proper notice that he was delinquent and the property could be sold. Mark Zion, the son of the owner, could not be reached for comment. “If Zion wins, he will have to pay the taxes,” Avolio said. “If the county wins, money from the tax sale will be turned over to the county, city and school district.”
Trigona said he has been unable to pay his taxes. He lost rental income when the city withheld occupancy permits for his properties because he had not paid city taxes, he contended in a lawsuit filed against the city.
“I have not had an income for the past eight years,” he said. “Frank Trigona is broke. My tax bills are over $300,000. I'm not a tax deadbeat. I was just kept from doing business in the city.”
Trigona won his suit, and the city owes him more than $77,000 in damages, plus $158,000 owed to his attorney fees.
Jacqueline Schade and Truong declined comment.
Wilding could not be reached for comment.
Ruoff, Lewis and Rehman, who have unlisted phone numbers, could not be reached. Carl Trapletti Jr., president of Traval Contractors Supply, did not respond to requests for comment. As for the lots owned by Jeannette, Avolio said the city failed to file for an exemption. He said it never received a delinquency notice and the lots never were scheduled for a tax sale.
Tax claim bureau attorney Tim Andrews said a governmental entity is tax-exempt, but the municipality must file for an exemption.
“They would have had an exemption if they had filed,” he said.
Each year, the bureau puts delinquent properties up for sale that are at least two years in arrears. If an owner does not pay the taxes before the sale, potential buyers can bid on the properties. The new owners become responsible for paying any taxes, judgments or liens.
Unsold properties are placed up for a judicial sale — free and clear of all mortgages, liens and judgments. If they still remain unsold, the bureau holds a bid-off sale, which allows buyers to bid against each other. Andrews said the bureau has a 97 percent collection rate on the average of 20,000 properties that are reported delinquent each year.
“Some are mistakes or the mortgage company made an error,” Andrews said. “After those are cleared up, there are still between 550 and 650 left on the delinquent list.”
Andrews said some tax sales are delayed when owners file for bankruptcy, blocking creditors from attempting to collect debts.
Jeannette has been plagued by absentee landlords who have fallen behind in their taxes on city property. Records indicate they live as far away as California, Texas and Canada.
“They are a problem,” Avolio said. “We kept running into issues where people bought property off the Internet, sight unseen.”
Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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