Luzerne County Council will not forgive 2020 property tax penalty after August 18
Property owners in Luzerne County must pay their county property taxes by August 18 to avoid a 10% late fee, as the penalty has not been waived for the remainder of the year.
The council had extended the non-penalty deadline from June 17 until August 18 to help those battling the coronavirus pandemic, but County Councilor Walter Griffith has proposed scrapping the penalty altogether this year, arguing some are suffering always financially.
While the introduction to his ordinance had passed by a majority, the proposal failed in the final vote on Tuesday because only three of Griffith’s board colleagues backed it – Stephen J. Urban, Harry Haas and Linda McClosky Houck .
Robert Schnee, Matthew Vough, Chris Perry, Sheila Saidman, Tim McGinley, Kendra Radle and LeeAnn McDermott voted against waiving the penalties.
At a public hearing on the matter before the vote meeting, Saidman said the county was “financially unable” to lose about $1 million in revenue because of the penalty.
Saidman also said that 84% of property owners have already paid their county taxes and noted that eliminating a penalty would primarily benefit large businesses that have yet to pay, as opposed to businesses or individuals “mommy.” and pop”.
Saying he’s looking at the “big picture,” Perry said the county had looming fiscal challenges in 2021 and couldn’t afford to lose $1 million. Eliminating an incentive to pay earlier could also delay the county’s receipt of $9.5 million in taxes owed, which could lead to layoffs, late supplier payments and an increase in the loan. tax anticipation required in 2021, he said.
Endorsing their positions, Vough said the board had already scheduled a no-penalty extension and it would be “fiscally irresponsible” to do more.
Saidman then pointed out that the county also plans to provide some of its coronavirus funding to businesses with 25 or fewer employees, information to be released soon.
About 18% of properties still have unpaid 2020 county property taxes, or 28,048 out of 157,755, according to information provided to the council.
Based on figures for the last three years, approximately 15,600 properties are subject to a tax claim each year due to unpaid property taxes. If this trend continues, the county should expect payment on about 12,500 properties before the end of the year.
McClosky Houck said she would rather “err on the side of caution” in providing relief because no one knows “what is happening around the corner” in the fallout from the pandemic. Cash flow shouldn’t be as much of a concern because the recent audit found the county ended 2019 with a $3.1 million surplus, she said.
Haas said he understands eliminating penalties might benefit some owners who don’t need them, but the same thing happens with assistance programs at the federal level. The Council’s main aim should be to help struggling businesses and families, he said.
Griffith argued that big business benefits shouldn’t be a driving force in the council’s decision on eliminating penalties, saying the county has always given tax breaks to attract big business.
Several citizens had urged the council to eliminate the penalty during the virtual meeting.
Nanticoke resident Ronald Knapp said the 10% penalty was “punitive in nature” and a “money grab”. Brian Shiner of Kingston described the decision as “greed” and “indifference to those who are struggling”.
In other matters, the board appointed Thomas Bindus to an unpaid seat on the Luzerne County Transportation Authority.