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Sutersville, Smithton, West Newton tax bill mistake affects 2,064

| Monday, March 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Two bills from Burkheimer Tax Administrator puzzled Greg King when he picked up the mail.

One notice correctly billed the West Newton resident for Yough School District per capita taxes. A second notice incorrectly billed him for residential per capita taxes in Sewickley Township.

“I was just so concerned because my mother and my mother-in-law were confused,” he said. “I said, ‘That's not right, we live in West Newton borough.'”

King was one of 2,064 tax bill recipients in Sutersville, Smithton and West Newton that mistakenly received the township bill, said Shawn Perry, Burkheimer spokesman for Southwestern Pennsylvania.

He could not provide a total number, but said that was a “small percentage” of the total mailed throughout the school district.

The Allentown-based company collects school district taxes and per capita/occupational resident taxes for many of the municipalities in Westmoreland County after the Central Tax Bureau of Pennsylvania was shuttered in September.

Perry called the bills listing the incorrect municipality a transitional mistake.

“We're more or less cleaning up the lists we have from Centax,” he said, adding that the company had received about 45 calls about the problem.

The three boroughs border Sewickley Township, where tax collector Linda Harvey has fielded about 15 calls, even though local tax collectors only handle real estate taxes.

“They just didn't know who to call. I will help them as much as I can,” she said.

After Act 32 took effect in January 2012, each county chose a company for earned-income tax collection and distribution. Centax collected taxes for 12 counties, including Westmoreland, but fell behind processing payments.

Centax blamed delays on software problems and shut down Sept. 21.

To further complicate the billing problem, King would have normally received the 2012-13 school district bill in July. Those statements were just sent out last month because of Centax's snags, Perry said.

“After this round we just did, in July we'll send out the 2013-14 ones, we'll be back to normal,” he added.

Pam Humenik. West Newton borough secretary, had collected a half-dozen of the incorrect bills to send back to Burkheimer, including her own.

She said she understood the difficulty the new company might have, especially because many township residents have mailing addresses listing the borough.

“It was an error, and I'm not sticking up for Burkheimer, but they had a really big mess thrown in their laps,” she said.

Perry said originally the company would require anyone who had received the wrong bill to call the Youngwood office or mail back the bill marked with “non-resident.”

But now an apology letter will be mailed within the next week to those taxpayers, who do not have to take any further action, he said.

“If they actually paid for more than one municipality, they'd get a refund back as well,” Perry said.

No other municipalities have reported similar errors.

“This transition's actually been pretty darn good,” Perry said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or sfederoff@tribweb.com.

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