As taxpayers, we rely on our elected government office holders who swear to uphold the laws of this Commonwealth — and that includes those who collect our taxes. In Lancaster County, we are fortunate to have many conscientious and trustworthy tax collectors with the appropriate knowledge and skills for the job. However, that is not guaranteed and is not always the case.
In Pennsylvania, local tax collectors are not required to have an accounting background. They are elected to the position by family, friends, neighbors and others who may or may not know them. With few requirements for the job, it leaves the taxpaying citizens of this Commonwealth open to the possibility that their taxes could be mishandled or misappropriated.
In East Lampeter Township, citizens were recently advised to hold off paying their taxes while county officials sort out accounting irregularities that resulted in some citizens being double-billed or receiving incorrect tax claims. Such “irregularities” serve to erode public trust, and this case was troubling enough for county officials to put tax collections on hold. Needless to say, such action should not be necessary, and it is for such reasons that I have put forth legislation to correct it.
Last session I sponsored a bill – now law – that provides greater accountability on the part of locally elected tax collectors. The purpose of the new law was to protect taxpayers by ensuring transparency and better oversight of those responsible for collecting our tax dollars.
This session, I am working to further strengthen the law as it relates to tax collectors. I am reintroducing a bill that would give municipalities greater flexibility in determining how and by whom local taxes would be collected. In fact, my legislation would enable municipalities to eliminate the office of tax collector altogether.
Across this Commonwealth, many municipalities are already entering into agreements for tax collection services. The good news is that municipalities that have allowed the county or joint taxing district to collect taxes on their behalf have seen a decrease in the amount of delinquent taxes, better cash flow and a number of other benefits.
Under my legislation, any municipality that wants to enter into an agreement with the county or adjoining or conveniently located taxing district for tax collection services would be permitted to do so only if there is a vacancy in the office of tax collector.
This temporary arrangement would be limited to two years, and would give the municipality the ability to try out the alternative arrangement and determine if it is beneficial to the municipality and its taxpayers. If so, the municipality could choose to eliminate the office of tax collector and enter into an agreement with the county treasurer’s office to collect taxes or team up with an adjoining or nearby municipality and form a joint tax collection district using a common tax collector.
As a certified public accountant and a former township supervisor, I recognize the value in affording municipal governments this flexibility. Taxpayers rely on these government officials to know what they are doing and make the right choices when it comes to the collection and distribution of their tax money. But when the public cannot rely on those individuals and the integrity of the tax collection process, there must be another way. My legislation gives municipal leaders the options they need and the ability to make the right choice for their constituents.