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Audit finds problems in Mt. Pleasant Township tax records

| Friday, Nov. 1, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A routine audit of the Mt. Pleasant Township tax collector's records revealed serious bookkeeping deficiencies leading to more than $13,000 in local taxpayers' money never being forwarded to Westmoreland County, according the county's report.

Tax collector Andrea Garbon owed $13,310 to Westmoreland County in real estate taxes, according to a county audit completed last week. She has since paid the money from her office account, according to county Controller Jeffrey Balzer.

When contacted this week, Garbon attributed the problems to a “computer error” and said software upgrades should prevent similar issues in the future.

“Ongoing improvements are being made,” said Garbon, paid $50,157 a year by the county, township and school district to collect taxes. “In the long run, they're (the upgrades) going to benefit all parties involved as we work together to move into the future.”

Township supervisors appointed Garbon, 41, to the post in February 2012 to fill the remainder of a four-year term vacated by Helen Schachte. Garbon, a Democrat, will face Republican Mary Hontz, 51, in Tuesday's general election.

“I don't believe that we thought she was doing anything illegal, as much as she was struggling to do her job,” said Balzer, adding that it was the largest amount of tax money at issue in such an audit since he took office in January 2012.

Calling it an “unfortunate finding,” Balzer said that in his experience, such bookkeeping issues are not common with tax collectors.

The audit of Garbon's office found she:

• Did not comply with state law by maintaining up-to-date records of what taxes had been paid.

• Could not provide duplicate copies of tax receipts to the public and others indicating that taxes on specific parcels were paid or unpaid.

• Did not send in taxes to the county every third business day in compliance with a county resolution.

• Could not provide auditors with copies of receipts, ledgers, check registers or bank statements.

• Did not have a log of overpayments and refunds.

In addition, the audit showed taxes had been paid on six parcels, but were marked unpaid in Garbon's books.

Garbon is responsible for collecting $1.9 million in taxes on 6,177 parcels of land for the county, according to the controller's office.

While some of the 128 municipalities in Westmoreland County use professional tax services, most use citizens elected to tax collector positions.

Township solicitor Leslie Mlakar said he had not read the audit and would not comment on it.

The school district and township have not conducted audits. Mt. Pleasant School District officials indicated no audit was planned.

“To our knowledge at this time, there have been no financial irregularities noted in our examination of monthly reports or independent audits of tax collectors,” according to a written statement issued by the district.

Kate Wilcox is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6155 or kwilcox@tribweb.com.

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