Hazle Twp. tax bills still delayed due to bonding issue

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - jandes@timesleader.com
Montone -

The mailing of Luzerne County and municipal real estate tax bills is still on hold in Hazle Township due to a tax collector’s bonding issue, but officials say they are confident a resolution is near.

Tax bills in the county’s 75 other municipalities were mailed more than two weeks ago, with a Feb. 12 issue date.

The county delayed the Hazle Township mailing because elected tax collector Ryan DeCosmo had turned in a bond issued to his father and previous tax collector, Michael DeCosmo, who currently serves as Luzerne County Democratic Party chairman.

County Controller Michelle Bednar released an audit Feb. 9 concluding the bond he turned in was invalid, saying state law requires bonds be in an elected collector’s own name.

Hazle Township Supervisor Chairman Jim Montone said Monday that he spoke to Michael DeCosmo on Monday, and was informed a bond in Ryan DeCosmo’s name is expected within days.

Michael DeCosmo, who could not be reached for comment Monday, has said his son qualifies for a bond, but it would be more expensive than his father’s bond because of his age, debts and income. The elder DeCosmo, who is approaching his mid-60s, has said the family was shopping around for a better rate for the son, who is in his 30s.

Bonds protect taxing bodies and property owners if real estate tax payments are lost or stolen. The bond for Michael DeCosmo cost the three taxing bodies — school, county and municipal — approximately $10,000 combined annually.

March 15 is the deadline under state law for elected collectors to furnish bonds, officials said.

The township has not received any complaints or inquiries about the delayed bills, Montone said. Waiting for the tax payments is not a problem for the township because it ended 2017 with a surplus of around $300,000 that can be used to cover initial 2018 expenses in a pinch, he said.

“We’re in very good shape,” said Montone.

The proofing and printing of tax bills will take several days to complete after a collector bond is submitted, county officials have said.

County Manager C. David Pedri said Monday a short delay won’t jeopardize county finances.

“As this is only one of the county’s 76 municipalities and due to the county’s conservative budgeting, this will not impact our 2018 budget as long as we get the tax bills out by March 15,” Pedri said.

County Chief Solicitor Romilda Crocamo said Monday the county has not yet received a bond from Ryan DeCosmo, but she said she is confident the elected collector will file one before March 15.

The administration had planned to file a response to Bednar’s audit within 14 days. Crocamo said the administration won’t be exercising that option, in part because a resolution is expected.

School board discussion

The Hazleton Area School Board briefly discussed the bonding at its Feb. 21 meeting, when the board was asked to approve the appointment of elected collectors in five municipalities, including Ryan DeCosmo for the township, according to an online video recording.

School board member Marie Kay questioned if Ryan DeCosmo will be bonded, and what will happen if he is not.

District Solicitor Christopher Slusser said the bonding was in the process of being addressed before March 15, and a municipality would have to appoint someone to fill a vacancy if an elected collector did not qualify for a bond.

School board vice chairwoman Linda DeCosmo told her colleagues she was informed by her husband, Michael DeCosmo, the day of the meeting that the bond for Ryan had been approved.

Ryan DeCosmo’s appointment passed, with Linda DeCosmo abstaining. School tax bills are mailed in July, officials said.

Montone
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By Jennifer Learn-Andes

jandes@timesleader.com

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

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