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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Candidate Question #2 Finances and Collections

Question#2: Finances and Collections

Collection of taxes and fees has been identified as a major financial issue in the city. Provide a few tactical solutions that would positively impact our collection deficiencies.

The first initiative will be to consolidate all financial matters under a qualified Director of Finance. This consolidation will allow for better tracking of expenses, forecasting of revenues and streamline the collection process. Delinquencies will be reduced with collection calls being made in the first 30 days of non-payment when an effort can be made to pay them. We cannot allow a delinquency to go beyond 60 days because they become harder to collect by the city and harder to pay by the customer. We will be swift but fair in our collection process and problem properties will be identified and a lien will be placed against the property. The lien will then be executed and the property owner will either pay their bill or we will flip the property to a new owner who will pay their fair share.

This administration chose to hire a collection agency to address this problem. Should the new charter pass, the addition of a Director of Finance, the creation of a finance department, and the elimination of the elected treasurer should improve our collection deficiencies. If the new charter doesn’t pass, the treasurer needs to be held more accountable – by the mayor, by council, and by the voters. And a finance department should be created nonetheless, requiring reports on collections and expenditures at each council meeting.

First we need to identify the problems. The first problem is that taxes and fees are too high. We currently pay the highest millage rate of any municipality in Northampton County and second we pay nearly the highest utility fees in the country! When a person on a fixed income is faced with a 16% tax increase when their increase from social security was on the order of 2% they are forced into a decision of what doesn’t get paid. All too often it is the taxes. Another problem is people who can afford to pay but choose not to. This is a very difficult problem. How do we collect from each of these groups without adversely affecting the individual on the fixed income? I believe we need to develop incentives such as long term payment plans which would allow the individual on a fixed income to distribute payments over a 20 year period as an example. This would allow collection of taxes from the estate of the individual but provide a means in which the individual can live in their house without the burden of excessively high taxes. For those who do have the ability to pay we need to be more aggressive in collection of taxes. Not paying real estate taxes suggests that the owner is not maintaining the property and therefore it is a signal for the codes office to insure that the property is meeting all current codes. In addition, council should develop greater financial penalties for over-due bills. The Treasurer’s Office should also implement mechanisms that make it easier for individuals to pay their bills. This includes automatic bill payment and payment through credit cards.

The very best and fastest way to collect, is to immediately go after any and all properties that any delinquent account has. Whithin 90 days, all delinquent accounts WILL, not should, but will, have papers filed against them and be on their way to being seized by the city for Sheriff's sale, or claimed under PA forfeiture of property laws. This would be the fastest and most adventagious way, if only we could force the treasurer to do his job.

An alternate way to get this done, is to bring the treasurer in front of council, and ask for his resignation or else he will be brought up on charges of dereliction of duty, and be forced out of office, and replaced with a competant treasurer. It may not be nice, but when someone continually refuses to do their job, I tend not to be a nice guy.

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