Luzerne County tax collection hit another snag this week when computer scanning devices wouldn’t read bar codes on some newly mailed 2014 bills.
The bar codes allow collectors to scan tax bill payments into the computerized tax collection software program so checks and payment reports can be issued to the county and municipalities.
The bar codes and bills were different this year because the county outsourced tax bill printing to save the county and municipalities money.
This latest glitch is yet another complication in the 2014 tax process that included a battle over who handles revenue collection and whether a tax increase was necessary.
Hanover Township tax collector Mildred Luba said her scanner wouldn’t detect half the bar codes since property owners started arriving with payments on Monday.
Collectors must manually enter control numbers into the system if a bar code doesn’t register. Luba said this manual process takes longer and will slow her efforts to comply with the county’s plea to turn over revenue sooner than required.
“I wanted to help out with the county’s money problems and give the money right away, but it’s time-consuming entering these codes,” said Luba, who collects on 12,000 properties in the township.
County Treasurer’s Office Manager/Tax Administrator Laura Beers went into detective mode because the bar codes had been checked by the software company before the bills were printed. Her office collects county taxes in Pittston, Nanticoke and Wilkes-Barre.
Beers had 50 bills that would not beep as they had in past years when waved flat under the scanner’s red beam. She discovered all 50 bar codes were read when the bills were held at an angle at a greater distance from the scanner.
The treasurer’s office fired off an email to collectors Wednesday afternoon describing this process, along with a photo of the technique.
Beers said the printing company will continue reviewing the matter if problems persist.
County tax collection has been an ongoing controversy this year.
A county council majority decided in January to keep relying on 69 elected collectors instead of carrying out a switch to in-house collection by the treasurer’s office.
The mailing of tax bills was delayed because a County Council majority considered amending the 2014 budget, though the 8-percent county tax hike was not reduced by the Feb. 15 amendment deadline. Bills were slated to go out in January but were not mailed until last week, causing cash flow problems for the county.
The county’s $124.8 million general fund operating budget counts on $98 million from property tax payments this year. Elected collectors don’t have to turn over March payments until April 10.
Luba and Jackson Township tax collector Jackie Latosek said elected collectors are trying to get the revenue to the county quicker, but they said cooperation works both ways.
“I want to turn over the money quickly, but we keep hitting stumbling blocks,” Latosek said.
To save money and reduce waste, the county has stopped providing elected collectors with a paper copy of each bill, instructing collectors to access the software program if they need to print one.
Latosek said she doesn’t want to rely on a software program for copies because she may have problems with her computer or Internet connection. Several steps also are required to print a copy of each bill from the software program, causing unnecessary delays, she said.
The copies previously supplied by the county allowed three bills to fit on each page, she said. She contacted the printer and obtained an electronic copy of her 1,300 bills so she could print a master copy at her own expense but said the printer indicated the county may not allow electronic copies to be sent to all elected collectors.
A paper record is valuable because some property owners misplace bills or claim they never received them, she said. Latosek said two property owners visited her office Wednesday requesting copies of their bills for their property tax rebate application, and she said she quickly made copies from her printed report at no charge.
“We’re not asking the county to pay for these reports, but the data should be available to tax collectors,” Latosek said.
Beers said a final tally on the savings from outsourcing printing will be released in the near future. She also disclosed an error on tax bills in Pittston, saying the misspelling “Pittstown” wasn’t detected during proofing.
Property owners can save 2 percent on their county taxes if they pay during a discount period through April 30. A 10-percent penalty is added to county tax bills that are not paid by June 30, Beers said.
Luba said she typically receives payment on 73 percent of taxes in Hanover Township in the discount period.