Last updated: February 20. 2013 3:05AM - 481 Views

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The Pennsylvania Theatre of Performing Arts in downtown Hazleton is asking Luzerne County officials to forgive $27,061 in back taxes incurred before it obtained tax-exempt status.

County council is scheduled to vote on the request at tonight's meeting.

The nonprofit owes property taxes from 2010 through 2012 on two attached West Broad Street properties commonly known as the J.J. Ferrara Center, according to county Assessment Director Tony Alu.

The Theatre of Performing Arts purchased the properties from the Greater Hazleton Philharmonic Society for $180,000 in January 2010, records show.

Tax-exempt status is not automatic and must be granted by the appeal board, Alu said. He did not know why the nonprofit waited to seek a tax-exempt declaration.

The board's ruling means the nonprofit won't be taxed going forward, but only county council has authority to forgive prior county tax debt, he said.

Before home rule, county commissioners typically entertained back-tax forgiveness requests if they had been approved by the school district and municipality, which has happened in this case, Alu said.

Frank Seratch, current president of the Theatre of Performing Arts board, said the nonprofit's volunteers did not know tax-exempt approval was necessary when the property changed hands.

The community theater group purchased the building because the Philharmonic Society had planned to close it amid financial struggles, he said.

The nonprofit holds several plays at the venue annually to try to provide Hazleton area cultural opportunities and generate ticket sale revenue to cover building expenses, he said. The organization cannot afford property taxes because its only other income stream is sporadic rental of the facility for events and meetings, he said.

The Wyoming Hose Co. No. 2 also is requesting forgiveness of $465 in 2012 county taxes on a Monument Avenue property purchased at the end of 2011. That property was recently granted tax-exempt status, Alu said.

Council also will vote tonight on a request to change the deadline to file 2014 assessment appeals from Sept. 1 to Aug. 1.

The assessor's office sought the change to help the appeals board wrap up all appeal hearings and rulings by its Oct. 31 deadline.

The county averages about 1,000 appeals annually, and most are received after school tax bills are mailed in July, Alu said, adding that several other similarly-sized counties have switched to an Aug. 1 deadline.

If you go

Luzerne County Council will hold a public work session and meeting at 6 tonight in the county's Emergency Management Agency building, Water Street, Wilkes-Barre.

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