Previous firm’s shoddy record keeping means some who paid received warnings

Last updated: March 04. 2014 11:10PM - 4080 Views
By - jandes@timesleader.com

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Luzerne County property owners should check their records if they recently received lien notices tied to Wyoming Valley Levee fee nonpayment because the mailing included some who already paid.

Lien notices have been sent to 3,811 property owners in recent weeks, officials said.

Northeast Revenue Service LLC, which handles the fee collection, is issuing the warning because the company inherited shoddy records from its now-defunct predecessor for two of the years involved in the lien notices — 2010 and 2011, said Northeast Revenue representative John Rodgers.

As a result of the certified mailing, numerous property owners have produced records showing they paid the fee in those years, when collection was handled by the Don Wilkinson Agency, which went out of business, Rodgers said.

A Kingston man, who requested his name not be printed, said he has tracked down evidence of his past payment and is concerned others will pay twice.

“This letter seems to be a tactic designed to scare people, gambling that a lot of people may not keep good records and will just pay even if they have already paid,” the man said.

That is not the case, Rodgers said.

He said his company had to use county Flood Protection Authority records to create a list of suspected levee fee nonpayments before 2012 because the Don Wilkinson Agency did not leave a comprehensive report.

Northeast Revenue was assigned to proceed with liens for 2010 and 2011 because failure to act would be unfair to those who paid, Rodgers said.

However, officials held off on filing liens longer than planned in case property owners who already paid were inadvertently in the mix, Rodgers said. Liens are scheduled to be filed with the county civil court records office on April 1, he said.

While blame can be aimed at the Don Wilkinson Agency, the burden to prove payment ultimately falls on property owners, he said.

The recent certified mailing followed several payment request letters to impacted property owners, he said. The company also plans to send one more letter to property owners who haven’t responded before the liens are filed.

“We want to make sure the record is accurate,” Rodgers said. “This is the last chance to pay or produce proof of payment.”

Liens remain with a property until the debt is paid, and property owners must pay additional interest, penalties and costs, Rodgers said. Credit ratings also may be lowered due to liens because credit agencies often request lien information, he said.

Delinquencies from 2012 were included in the recent certified mailing, but Rodgers said he is confident records from that year are accurate because his company was on board.

The Don Wilkinson Agency came under fire in 2012 before Northeast Revenue’s hiring for failing to send out notices informing fee payers of delinquencies and plans to file liens.

The controversial levee fee, imposed on 14,200 properties in low-lying, levee-protected areas, ranges from $46.85 to $93.70 for residential properties and $93.70 to $676.44 for commercial, industrial and tax-exempt properties.

The fee was implemented in 2009 to fund levee maintenance tied to flood control, removing the expense from the county’s strapped general fund operating budget. The fee generates about $1.1 million annually.

Fee critics say all county residents should help pay to keep the levee up to flood control standards, while supporters say the burden should fall on properties that directly benefit.

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