Our Opinion: Can’t pay your property taxes? Explore Luzerne County’s ‘hardship program’

August 8th, 2015 11:30 pm

It’s small consolation, but certain Luzerne County homeowners who are in danger of losing their homes due to unpaid property taxes no longer have to plead before a judge for a reprieve.

Instead, they can fill out a form.

Like we said, it’s a small consolation.

The newly announced hardship program, intended for low-income elderly residents and people stung by financial emergencies, won’t appease proponents of property tax elimination. For them, Senate Bill/House Bill 76 offers the only acceptable solution.

But for people in owner-occupied residences whose backs are to the wall, it’s a welcomed, compassionate and stress-reducing switch in procedure.

Previously, county judges listened to people’s heart-felt appeals to have their homes removed from upcoming back-tax auctions, such as the one scheduled for later this month. The jurists then made judgment calls, deciding who was deserving of more time to pay.

Under the new plan, there are qualifying conditions that must be met. For people ages 65 and older, for instance, annual household income must fall below the cap for a state property tax rent rebate, which is now set at $35,000 (not including half of Social Security income). Property owners will be required to submit documents verifying, for instance, their income and other money matters.

“This will help the people who have a real need and are suffering and help us weed out the other cases,” said attorney John Rodgers, head of county tax-claim operator Northeast Revenue Service Inc.

For property owners under 65, the program applies to those coping with “serious physical illness or injury, unemployment or a combination of illness/injury and prolonged unemployment,” according to an article in Thursday’s edition of the Times Leader. “These problems must have ‘occurred or persisted’ during the years taxes were delinquent or in the year immediately preceding the delinquency.”

Participants could receive payment extensions of up to a year, provided they abide by a repayment agreement.

Applications for the hardship program are available in the tax claim office (located on the first floor of Luzerne County’s courthouse in Wilkes-Barre) and will be posted on the tax claim website, www.luzernecountytaxclaim.com. If you’re seeking removal from the Aug. 27 property sale, the deadline to submit an application is Aug. 17.

The state’s Democratic governor and its Republican-led General Assembly each put forward plans this year to supply widespread property tax relief. For the time being, those plans are stuck in Harrisburg’s budget-making standoff.

Until property taxes get repealed or reduced for Pennsylvanians, know your options for keeping the roof over your head.

HOW TO APPLY

Applications for the homeowners’ hardship program are available in the Luzerne County Tax Claim Office (located on the first floor of the courthouse, 200 N. River St., Wilkes-Barre) and will be posted on the tax claim website, www.luzernecountytaxclaim.com.

HOW TO APPLY

Applications for the homeowners’ hardship program are available in the Luzerne County Tax Claim Office (located on the first floor of the courthouse, 200 N. River St., Wilkes-Barre) and will be posted on the tax claim website, www.luzernecountytaxclaim.com.


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