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Allegheny County treasurer's rental car tax probe expands

Aaron Aupperlee
| Friday, Aug. 14, 2015, 12:01 a.m.

A yearlong probe of unpaid rental car taxes has expanded to include Hertz locations in Allegheny County beyond Pittsburgh International Airport.

County Treasurer John Weinstein's office is investigating whether Hertz Corp. paid the proper tax for cars rented from its seven other locations.

“We felt that was a necessary question to answer,” said Michael McCabe, an attorney at Goehring Rutter & Boehm, the Downtown firm that handles tax collection cases for the Treasurer's Office. “The process has taken some time, but we expect to have it wrapped up soon.”

County Controller Chelsa Wagner's office alleged Wednesday that Hertz owes $1.8 million in unpaid taxes, interest and penalties from cars rented at the airport from January 2008 to April 2010.

The county charges a $2-a-day tax on all rented vehicles. County officials expect the tax to generate $6.7 million in revenue in 2015, about $100,000 less than in 2014.

Deputy Controller Amy Weise said the office had asked Weinstein's office in April to calculate the interest and penalties on the $840,790 in unpaid taxes from the period. When the Treasurer's Office did not do so, the controller's office did its own calculation.

McCabe said the Treasurer's Office is waiting to conclude its investigation before calculating the total interest and penalties owed.

Hertz in January paid $743,107 to settle unpaid taxes from May 2010 to April 2013, but appealed $307,530 of it that went toward penalties and interest. McCabe said the company's appeal is pending.

Bill Masterson, a Hertz spokesman, said the company had not yet decided whether to appeal the $930,099 in interest and penalties the Controller's Office has estimated it owes on the unpaid taxes from January 2008 to April 2010.

Hertz has claimed it mistakenly paid the county tax to the state, which imposes a rental car tax. Because of a statute of limitations on tax claims, Hertz has not recovered any of the taxes it mistakenly paid to the state, Masterson said.

“We have fully cooperated with the audit and continue to work with the treasurer's office for resolution of taxes that were paid in error,” Masterson wrote in an email.

McCabe said it is the Treasurer's Office's policy not to disclose the amount of non-property tax a business pays.

Wagner's office has announced what Hertz owes in unpaid taxes, even though Hertz asked it not to. Hertz noted a section of the county administrative code requires the controller to keep such information confidential. Weise said officials in the Controller's Office don't think the code prohibits the release of audit results.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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