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Monessen hires attorney to collect trash, tax cash

| Thursday, Oct. 16, 2003

MONESSEN - Monessen City Council announced Wednesday that it intends to turn over delinquent real estate tax and garbage accounts to a law firm for collection.

Chuck Zubritsky, chairman of accounts and finance, presented the first reading of a proposed ordinance that would permit Portnoff Law Associates Ltd., of Wynnewood, to go after roughly $300,000 in delinquent real estate taxes for this year and more than an $180,000 in delinquent garbage collection fees that have mounted since 1996.

Zubritsky said residents with delinquent accounts will have a grace period that will run through Nov. 10 to settle their accounts.

After that, Portnoff will take over and tack on applicable legal fees to overdue bills. Portnoff will charge $30 to $800 per account, with an additional hourly rate ranging from $65 to $225.

Zubritsky said more than $2,000 in additional fees could be added to each account. The collection process can take up to six months per account and could result in sheriff's sales of the properties in question.

Delinquent taxpayers would also have to foot an additional $35 per account that will be charged to the city.

Council warned residents with delinquent accounts to settle their debts before it's too late.

"Once it gets in the attorney's hands, the process is well laid out," Zubritsky said.

"Once it gets rolling, fees begin to accumulate, and they are substantial."

"We want people to know if you owe money, now's the time to come down and pay, because this guy doesn't fool around," Mayor John T. DeLuca said. "He's an attorney and he's going to get the money."

DeLuca said council agreed to hire the law firm after it found out the process was legal.

"From what I understand, (the firm) authored a law that made it legal to, at least, do it for this year," DeLuca said of the real estate tax collections. "I wish we could turn over the past five years of real estate taxes."

Zubritsky said the firm's methods are not cutthroat.

"He said he will be reasonable, and he would allow council to have some input into hard-luck cases," Zubritsky said.

Council expects to give final approval on the plan Oct. 28 at a special meeting. The pending ordinance states that the city would notify residents 30 days prior to being charged additional attorney fees.

Zubritsky said the process is a surefire way to collect taxes and will support this year's budget.

He said the city has spent 77.7 percent of its 2003 budget and has $900,000 in reserve, which might not last the year. Zubritsky said revenue collected from delinquent accounts would help to stabilize the city for the remainder of the year.

"We're holding our own for the present," Zubritsky said. "If we can continue to improve our revenue collection, we will finish the year relatively close."

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