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Tax office to trade pencils for disks

| Monday, Aug. 9, 2004

Property owners in Collier can expect their real estate bills to be more accurate, now that the township is computerizing its tax office, say township officials.

Collier is paying for a $24,000 computer system to replace township Tax Collector Judy Astfalk's longtime method of relying on pencils and paper to keep track of more than $10 million in property-tax revenue.

The cost for the system is expected to be shared by Chartiers Valley School District.

Collier Manager Jeanne Creese said she is sending the school board a letter that outlines the total cost to computerize the tax office. The school board then must decide how much of a contribution it will make, if any, she said.

The school board last month told Collier officials that the district would pay a portion -- maybe half -- of the computer program, said Chartiers Valley spokesman Chuck McCartney.

In June, the results of an audit conducted by certified public accountants Cypher & Cypher of Canonsburg and commissioned by the Chartiers Valley School District said Astfalk's office was "clearly the worst" of 85 that the firm had audited incorporating 19 school districts. The CPAs criticized Astfalk's office because it wasn't computerized, among other reasons.

Collier commissioners last week authorized giving Bethel Park-based ProSoft Technologies Inc. up to $23,840 for real estate tax-collection software. The fee will include training, technical support and installation costs.

Astfalk -- the elected tax collector for Collier since 1994 -- did not return calls made to her office.

In the past, Astfalks has said that although she agrees her office needs to be computerized, she disagrees with the audit's findings that her books and records have been poorly organized and incomplete.

Collier has about 5,300 residents. Collier is part of the Chartiers Valley School District, as are Bridgeville, Heidelberg and Scott.

"Buying this computer package will help the school district, the township, the tax collector and the taxpayer. It's a win-win situation for everyone," Collier Commissioner Roger Horgan said.

McCartney, the Chartiers Valley School District spokesman, agreed.

"When everything is sitting around on a paper trail, there is always a possibility it could get misplaced or misfiled," McCartney said. "Updating their system will expedite their tax collection and, in the end, benefit the school district. It will be less work for us having to go back and review anything."

Horgan said the move to computerize the tax office was not a direct result of the audit conducted by Cypher & Cypher.

"It was just something needed for modernization," Horgan said. "We would have eventually done it anyway."

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