Dear LiB: What Seems to be the Hang Up with Bellevue’s Finances?

2015-07-29 15.37.35-1Dear LiB:

I write to you this week for one simple reason, to publicly acknowledge and thank Bellevue Councilman Henry Lenard and Councilwoman Kathy Coder.

If memory serves me correctly, for the better part of six months, Councilman Lenard has been asking, begging even, for a publishable list of Bellevue’s delinquent taxpayers. Every month during Bellevue Council’s regular meeting, without fail, Councilman Lenard raises the question and seemingly every month Director of Administrative Services, Ron Borcyzk, explains that for one reason or another he doesn’t have it yet.

Likewise, every month, without fail, Councilwoman Coder seems to be the only member of the board who diligently goes through the borough’s monthly bill lists and questions why there are late fees, missed payments, and line items that don’t make any sense. And, much like the taxpayer list, there always seems to be some kind of an excuse.

It’s no secret that Bellevue’s strapped for cash. Just a few months ago Council President Mark Helbling was asking the Finance Committee to consider increasing parking rates to generate some additional revenue. As one who strives to pay my taxes and fees on time, month after month, year after year, I demand that something be done regarding the proper management of the borough’s resources!

Why is it so difficult to compile a list of taxpayers who have been shirking their “fair share” of the borough’s revenue year after year? Why is paying, or at least reporting payment of, the borough’s bills accurately and on time such a challenge?

I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to manage a borough, but as a business owner, I can tell you within seconds which invoices are paid in full and which are outstanding. I know which bills have been paid and which are on the docket. This isn’t complicated. This is organizational management 101 type stuff. If something so fundamental to the daily operation of a local municipality is so difficult for the current borough manager and his staff, it forces me to wonder what other tasks are too much for them to handle.

The ultimate responsibility for the handling of Bellevue’s affairs lies with council. With the exceptions of Mr Lenard’s drive to recoup the borough’s lost revenue and Ms Coder’s oversight of the borough’s bill list, it’s time for Council to grow a spine, step up, and demand better for its residents. It’s time for those we elected to demand accountability and effectively lead our borough.

Tom Fodi
Democrat/Republican Nominee for Bellevue Coucil

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12 Responses to “Dear LiB: What Seems to be the Hang Up with Bellevue’s Finances?”

  1. Tom,
    As a retired Internal Revenue Service Revenue Officer with much experience regarding taxes and tax law the idea of publishing the names of delinquent taxpayers may open the borough to lawsuits. If you are talking about delinquent earned income tax it is no one’s business but the borough’s and the taxpayer’s what their tax bill is primarily because the income of the taxpayer can be determined from how much tax they pay. And someone’s income and personal tax information is NOT public information. So beware. About the only recourse the borough has is to file liens on taxes that have been assessed and are delinquent because LIENS are public record. Regarding federal taxes any information publicly disclosed other than through the filing of liens is illegal. Additionally, just like with federal taxes that are written off by the government, there are many people who simply cannot afford to pay their taxes. Publishing names in those cases is just a petty act of vindictiveness. So, in my opinion backed by 25+ plus years as a tax agent, it is probably wise that Mr. Borcyzk continue to put off Mr. Lenard.

    • Hey Bill, according to the borough’s legal team, that’s not true with regards to local property taxes. Many municipalities do something to this effect. Council’s desire isn’t to be vindictive. They have agreed to protect the identities of those with whom they’ve spoken and have heard a good faith effort to either get caught up on their property taxes or made other arrangements. This was arranged for months ago. However, there are numerous other individuals who have simply ignored the legal actions taken so far by the borough and are simply unwilling to pay the taxes the rest of us are forced to pay. Meanwhile, the borough continues to threaten to increase taxes on those of us actually paying them. Before I’m willing to submit to additional tax increases, I believe the borough should have every means afforded it to collect that which is due and appreciate Mr Lenard’s call for a published list.

      • Tom, I don’t see how publishing the names will do anything other than embarrass people. My experience tells me there are basically two types of people that do not pay property taxes. One group is those that can’t afford to pay them like some of the elderly, the unemployed and the underemployed. The other group are tax scofflaws that are either judgment proof or know the borough won’t foreclose on the properties and/or don’t care. With these types the issue is akin to a business expense. If it is worth it to pay they will. If not, and there are no financial sanctions, they won’t pay. Publishing the names of the people that lack the wherewithal to pay is just not right.

  2. Bill, Bellevue presently has more than $380,000 in delinquent property taxes. A perusal of that list finds that many are apartment buildings owned by absentee landlords. In the past, Bellevue regularly published the list of those delinquent on their borough property taxes and it was effective in getting many of those on the list to pay up. It is not the elderly widow on a fixed income or the unemployed millwright who isn’t paying, most of those on the list are fully capable of paying their fair share. Why should those of us who pay our taxes on time have to subsidize those who don’t? Bellevue could do a lot with that $380,000 and I will continue to push for the publication of those names. As a side note, the full council is in agreement with the publication of these names and the solicitor also sees no problem with it. The delay has been in the borough administration cleaning up that list to get it ready for publication.

  3. Is the borough filing liens and getting judgments? Filing liens is a far more effective way of dealing with the problem than publishing names. Liens and judgments impede an individual’s ability to obtain financing and credit. Publishing names will only (might only) embarrass those whose names are published and once they are published the cat is out of the bag and there is no more reason to pay. And another thing. Savvy apartment building owners or multi unit owners are going to protect themselves from personal liability through the creation of corporations, limited liability companies, trusts, etc., where the individuals behind those entities are unknown. I know of three unoccupied properties close to me that are owned by entities other than individuals. And as a side note, just because council is in agreement with publishing the names does not make it right or smart. As a resident of Bellevue for more than twenty years I have observed continuous council bungling. Winning what amounts to a popularity contest for a council seat does not make anyone an expert in public administration. And finally, Henry, I have lived in Bellevue for greater than twenty years and I have not seen a REGULARLY published list of delinquent taxpayers.

    • Bill, filling liens may be effective in the long long run, but it takes years to get people out of their houses, and if the home owner is smart they pay just enough to keep the Boro at bay. While I’m not in favor of kicking people out of their homes, I think everyone needs to pay or no one should pay, so since we need the money, we need to do something!!

  4. Agree to disagree on the issue of whether or not publishing the list is an effective tool (after a cursory Google-search it’s been proven to be quite effective in states like New Hampshire and Arizona on a state-wide and city level), the point of the article is that council, as a body, has asked our administrative personnel to create a publishable list. Yet, after months and months of asking the same question, every month there are excuses as to why it hasn’t been done yet. Additionally, every month there seems to be questions and discrepancies concerning the list of payments going out of the borough’s coffers.

    This is taxpayer dollars being wasted. First of all, nearly half a million dollars is going uncollected. Secondly, the bills are being paid in what seems to be an incredibly odd fashion leading to confusion, late fees, and missed payments. Last, if we’re having trouble with these items, what other hiccups are we not realizing are happening within borough hall?!

    My primary point is that our borough is paying a lot of money in salaries and expenses for a borough manager and staff that are not being held to the highest of standards. Every month I hear our borough manager say, “I can’t answer that.” “I’m not sure about that.” “I’m not prepared for that.” I’m very concerned about what is happening (or not happening) on a daily basis at 537 Bayne Avenue. I believe the residents of Bellevue deserve better than what is being offered and am frustrated by many on council who aren’t willing to lead and hold those responsible accountable for their actions (or lack thereof).

  5. Thanks for your comments, Bill. I’ve lived in Bellevue for 58 years and the publication of delinquent taxpayers was always done back in the day. With Bellevue having trouble finding people to run for council, I would welcome you to consider it. Trust me, being a target in a shooting gallery isn’t much fun. We try to do what we collectively believe is best for the borough and it is easy to snipe from the sidelines without knowing all the details of any particular issue. That’s why I commend Tom Fodi for throwing his hat in the ring because as one who regularly attends the meetings, he knows what to expect. Maybe that’s why people don’t want to run.

    • I have neither an inclination to participate other than as a voter and I have no expertise or qualifications to participate in public administration. But I am long on common sense and reality. And I don’t snipe, Henry. I should shut up because I disagree with some on council? Is that the label you put on dissent? You sound like a democrat.

      • No one should shut up if they disagree with council. There have been changes because of residents’ opinions. Common sense and reality are important. I wish there was more non-political resident involvement. I am not aware of a label placed on those who express their opinions to council. Just because you disagree with me does not mean you are to be ignored. I don’t see personal attacks as necessary but I want to hear all sides. If you have opinions, the best communication tool is to speak at a council meeting.

  6. Someone wise once told me, “It’s easy to disagree with a plan or idea. Everyone does that. The challenge is to come up with an alternative course of action and stick your neck out on the line owning it as your own. That’s the difference between complainers and leaders.”

    I think council’s idea is worth a shot. The data suggests it is reasonably helpful in its stated goal. If it helps recoup some of the borough’s lost revenue, it will be worth it.

    I’m sure other ideas not yet attempted would be welcome and considered.

    • Bill, I appreciate your opinion. The advertising of delinquent taxpayers has not been done in many years. I am told it is public knowledge. It has only been 2 months since council directed the borough manager to write letters to all of the delinquent taxpayers and to offer a payment plan. Many of these are well under $1000. I am sure it was an oversight on some taxpayers part. Council agreed not to advertise the list until the delinquent taxpayers have been contacted and had the opportunity to make payment arrangements. There are hundreds on the list and it is going to take time. Letters have to be written and sent. Then the phone calls have to be answered and payment arrangements have to be agreed upon. I would prefer to take the time necessary to compile a list of those who have made no or little effort to pay their taxes. If they do not take the initiative to make payments, they will be on the advertised delinquent list. Some owe for many years. Delinquent garbage is another problem. Some owe thousands of dollars.

      I requested that those who have a medical situation be given leniency but that was not considered.

      When I ask questions of the borough manager at our meetings, I do not expect him to know the answer to everything I ask. I expect him to answer what he knows and then get me the answer at a later date. No one can know or remember everything. It is a challenging job. I have never known a borough manager who has had all the answers. Many a CEO being paid millions of dollars a year have made major mistakes. I have been in business all my adult life and never have I known anyone
      who knows it all. We need to have reasonable expectations of borough staff.

      Council meetings are for open discussion and to get answers to make good decisions.

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