West Hazleton’s elected tax collector relies on a borough business to collect Luzerne County property tax payments, and the business owner told police cash from some of these payments was recently stolen from his vehicle.
The incident raises questions about why the elected collector — Louis D. Zboray — wasn’t handling the tax receipts and deposits himself. Zboray’s published tax collector phone number was answered by the business, Malone & Nenstiel Insurance Center. Zboray and business owner Paul Malone did not respond to a request for comment.
According to a report prepared by borough Police Chief Brian Buglio:
Malone said he put a bank bag in the center console of his vehicle around 7:30 p.m. Feb. 19. The bag contained property tax payments, sewer bills, per capita taxes and petty cash from his register.
He stopped at the Elk’s Club and his parent’s house, both in Hazleton, before he went to his Sugarloaf Township residence that night. The next morning, he went to the Bonanza Restaurant in the township and the Hazleton Post Office.
Malone said he realized the bag was stolen when he returned to his office Feb. 20 and told police the bag could have been stolen from his car while he was at any of the locations.
“He stated there is no way of knowing who paid their taxes or did not since everything was inside the bag,” the report said.
Malone, who reported the theft Feb. 22, indicated it could take a year to identify the missing payments because that’s when the property owners who paid will receive delinquency notices.
Kelly Portanova, the employee who collected the property tax payments, told police she did not remember “specific people” who paid and estimated up to seven payments were in the bag, with “maybe only two” paying with cash.
Buglio has been investigating the matter with county detectives.
County Manager Robert Lawton said the incident “illustrates the risks inherent in using surrogates of surrogates to handle county funds.”
A county majority recently voted to accept Lawton’s recommendation to switch to in-house tax collection by the county treasurer’s office starting next year. The county’s elected tax collectors are suing to force the county to keep them on.
Lawton said the inability to determine the amount of missing revenue for up to a year is “yet another example of the existing system’s inadequacies.”
“Given that the individual involved was not a tax collector or deputy tax collector, we are concerned that we may not have recourse to recover these funds pursuant to the bonds issued on elected tax collectors,” Lawton said.
County officials also are examining if receipts were given to the property owners who paid, and, if not, why that step was omitted.