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Tax collector post's fate in voters' hands

| Monday, May 14, 2012, 7:12 a.m.

The Nov. 6 general election will give Murrysville residents a chance to abolish the elected position of tax collector in the municipality.

A referendum on the ballot calls for an amendment to Murrysville's Home Rule Charter that, in effect, would terminate the position.

Council unanimously approved an amendment abolishing the post at its March 7 meeting, but the measure also must be approved by voters.

Some $30 million goes through the Murrysville tax office each year. The office has been headed by an elected tax collector since the municipality's Home Rule Charter was adopted in 1976.

Current tax collector Carolyn Krudwig, who will complete her four-year term on Dec. 31, announced in February that she will not run for re-election. She was preceded in the position by Anna Lasher, who was the third member of the Wohlin family to serve Murrysville as tax collector.

Fred Wohlin retired from the job in 1974, and his daughter, Calla Sabol, took over. After Sabol left the post, her sister, Anna Lasher, stepped in. She continues to work for Krudwig.

At a meeting last week, Mayor Ruth Fowler stressed concerns about continuity in the office once Krudwig departs. 'There might be a new person coming in every election,' she said.

Language in the referendum addresses that very subject, stating that the potential for a new tax collector every four years could create 'a disruption in the manner of tax collection because of the time needed to become familiar with the process and gear up for the work to be done.'

Fowler said whoever fills the elected position would not be required to hold public office hours and could set hours 'whenever they want.'

Krudwig said earlier this year that she favored abolishing the position.

'The operation has become too complex and the amount of money too great and important to the functioning of the community to trust it to whoever decides to run for office,' she said.

The only requirement for the post is that the candidate has lived in Murrysville for at least one year.

The municipality is exploring its options should voters choose to abolish the position.

Collecting taxes could become a municipal function, transforming the tax collector from an elected to an appointed official with a municipal staff. Or Murrysville could hire a collection agency to handle tax revenue.

Should the referendum be approved, Councilwoman Joyce Somers said an independent contractor could be used until an appointed tax collector is trained for the job.

Officials noted that even if the position is abolished, the office space would remain in use.

'Council wishes to keep that office open for the transaction of tax payments, questions on tax bills and assistance to the public,' chief administrator Don Pepe stated in a memo to council and the mayor.

'The reason for this referendum is not to say that the elected tax collector has not done the job. On the contrary, they have done the best they could under the circumstances. But due to a much more complex tax structure and the increased technology available to us to deal with it, the time is now to take advantage of current opportunities that allow for collection to be done more efficiently and (at less cost) to the taxpayer.'

Along with the referendum, the Nov. 6 ballot will list Mark Miller as the Democratic and Republican nominee for tax collector. He is almost certain to win election if the referendum abolishing the post is voted down.

Miller earned the nod of each party after a successful write-in campaign in the primary. He feels he is qualified for the position and would provide oversight of a quality staff. He also said he would try to determine the number of hours the office would need to be open and when.

'It's tough running against the (municipality), but we'll see what happens,' Miller said.

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