Representatives of Luzerne County's 69 elected tax collectors huddled privately in the county courthouse Thursday night and emerged willing to accept deeper pay cuts to try to convince county council to keep their services.
Their final offer will save up to $125,000 annually.
Collectors currently receive $3.50 per bill, regardless of whether property owners pay. Their new proposal: a $2.75 stipend for collected bills and $1 for uncollected ones.
The tax collectors also would be eligible for an additional 25-cent payment for each paid bill annually if they exceed their collection rates over the three previous years.
Councilman Rick Morelli pushed for an additional incentive, saying he doesn't mind paying more to collectors who bring in more revenue.
Hazle Township tax collector Mike DeCosmo also said elected collectors have motivation to boost collection rates with the decreased stipend for unpaid bills.
The changes, if accepted by county council, would take effect in 2014 for tax collectors elected this year.
The eight collectors made their offer during a negotiating session requested by county council. In addition to Morelli, council members Tim McGinley and Eugene Kelleher participated.
The 11-person county council must make its decision on the future handling of county tax collection by Feb. 15, and a vote is scheduled for the next council meeting Feb. 12.
Council members have three other proposed ordinance options on the table:
• Switch to in-house collection by the county Treasurer's Office, which would save a projected $258,555 annually and generate more than $100,000 in additional revenue through fees. The elected collectors continue to dispute the accuracy of this savings projection.
• Pay tax collectors $2 for collected bills and $1 for unpaid ones, which would save an estimated $228,000 annually.
• Pay the collectors $2 for paid bills and nothing for unpaid ones, saving around $234,000 annually.
Council members are not limited to these dollar amounts and are free to introduce other options Feb. 12.
The first ordinance to receive at least six of 11 votes will take effect, county officials say.
The tax collectors initially had offered to keep their payment at $3.50 for paid bills and lower the unpaid bill stipend to $1.50, which would have saved $100,000 over four years.
Before the collectors met in private to come up with their best offer Thursday, one of the collectors suggested keeping the paid bill the same and reducing the unpaid fee to $1. The group expressed doubt the savings would be enough to attract six votes from council.
Kelleher spoke to two elderly acquaintances and asked how they would pay their county tax bills if they didn't have elected collectors, he said. Both said they would mail in their payments as they do with federal taxes.
DeCosmo said tax collectors, with minimal effort, obtained thousands of signatures from property owners who value their services. People want to keep us, he said.
Kelleher said the service provided by most elected collectors is wonderful.
The issue is we have to look for ways to save money, and this is one, he said.
All three council members praised the collectors for their final offer and willingness to negotiate.
Morelli said the county's $3.50 payment is around the median statewide for elected collectors. However this vote turns out, I think you should be credited with saving money, he said. You didn't stick to $3.50, even though it's at the average.
Luzerne County Council will hold a public meeting to vote on tax collection and other issues at 6 p.m. Feb. 12 in the county's Emergency Management Agency building, Water Street, Wilkes-Barre.
The 2013 Luzerne County real estate tax bills have been mailed to property owners in Nanticoke, Pittston and Wilkes-Barre.
Payments will be accepted by mail and at the Treasurer's Office in the courthouse at 200 N. River St., Wilkes-Barre, between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The phone number for the Treasurer's Office is 830-5129.
Online payments can be made at www.paylocalgov.com/LuzerneCounty-PA.
Nanticoke property owners will have a combined bill for city and county taxes.
The following dates are in effect for the tax bills for Pittston, Nanticoke and Wilkes-Barre:
• Issue Date: Jan. 31.
• Rebate of 2 percent ends April 1.
• Face value ends June 1.
• Penalty of 10 percent ends Dec. 31.
The Treasurer's Office will accept face payments in person on June 3.
Taxpayers are reminded to forward their bills to their mortgage companies if the companies are responsible for remitting payment.
If a receipt is desired, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope and both parts of the tax bill.
To change the mailing address on the bill, appear in person with identification at the Assessor's Office in the courthouse annex opposite the courthouse or complete and notarize an authorization form available on the Assessor's Office webpage: www.LuzerneCounty.org.