Luzerne County property owner tries to prepay real estate taxes

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -

Luzerne County resident Tom Benz wanted to prepay his 2018 real estate taxes this week, but county officials said early payments are not permissible by state law.

Benz estimated he would save $900 if he could receive credit for paying 2018 county, school and municipal taxes in 2017.

The new federal tax reform package taking effect Jan. 1 caps deductions for state and local taxes at $10,000.

Benz pays nearly half that amount — $4,775 — on local real estate taxes alone for his Foster Township residence and three adjacent land parcels. He wanted to prepay this amount for 2018, with the understanding he would owe more next year if the Hazleton Area School District imposed a tax hike this spring.

County Treasurer’s Office Manager/Tax Administrator Laura Beers sent Benz an email Wednesday saying early payments would violate several provisions of the Local Tax Collection Act of 1945.

Under state law, tax collectors must settle or close out records on which current year taxes are paid and unpaid before they can receive bills and accept payments for the next year, Beers said. Property owners have until Dec. 31 to pay this year’s taxes.

County and municipal tax bills have not been generated yet, in part because some of the 76 municipalities are still in the process of setting their 2018 tax rates, Beers said. Even if the 2018 bills had been prepared, they can’t be delivered to tax collectors until the 2017 records are reconciled, she said.

The state Tax Collectors’ Association also weighed in on the issue in a Dec. 20 memorandum, saying prepayment of 2018 taxes is “expressly prohibited” by Pennsylvania law.

“I am sorry that we were not able to provide a more favorable outcome with regard to this matter, but we must adhere to the laws of the Commonwealth,” Beers wrote in her email to Benz.

Benz said Wednesday that he understood but did not agree with the legal restriction.

“It’s frustrating that Pennsylvania laws and processes make it so difficult to be able to take action that would benefit both the taxpayers and the county, school district and municipalities that would receive tax revenue early,” Benz said.

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.