LAWRENCE CO. Businesses owe county $400,000 in back taxes

The county treasurer wants to hire an attorney to check on delinquent taxpayers.
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- There is at least $400,000 worth of taxes that are unpaid in Lawrence County -- mainly from businesses, according to Gary Felasco, county treasurer.
Felasco said his office has found that some delinquent property taxes have gone unnoticed because businesses were given court ordered extensions on payment or made agreements with county officials to pay delinquent taxes at a later time and then never followed through.
The treasurer's office became aware of the problem after noticing one delinquent taxpayer was chronically getting court orders that prevented the county from selling his property at the yearly tax claim bureau sale, Felasco said.
Felasco and Deputy Treasurer Cathy Tostano-Baker started looking into county records and found others who had not paid taxes after court orders eventually expired.
Some people who had filed for bankruptcy were also not paying their property taxes, Tostano-Baker said.
"We started going through the system for property marked for court stays or bankruptcy and realized this is huge money" that's owed to the county, Felasco said.
Records: The county treasurer said he expects it will take about two weeks to get through all county tax records to determine how many more property owners aren't paying taxes.
The $400,000 already identified in outstanding taxes isn't all county money. Some of it belongs to municipalities and school districts, the treasurer said.
Felasco urged county commissioners to be tough on people who don't follow through on agreements to pay delinquent taxes.
"We are done playing games with these people. If you get in a bad situation we will help you out once, but not every year for the rest of your life," Felasco said.
Publicize names: County Commissioner Ed Fosnaught said he wants to publicize the names and amounts owed once the treasurer's office finishes its investigation.
Felasco said he wants to hire an attorney to check over his office's work and see how the county can legally go after the businesses for back taxes.
"It's worth it because the money we spend on the attorney can easily be made up to us either through sales or returning the property to the tax rolls," he said.
Tax sale: Commissioner Roger DeCarbo said there was reluctance in the past to go after big employers who are delinquent on property taxes for fear that jobs would be eliminated.
"I say shut people down who don't pay taxes. Then somebody else can come in and create new jobs in that mill," he said.
Felasco, who took over the tax claim bureau office last year, said he also found some property taken by the county because of delinquent taxes before 1973 had never been included in tax sales.
He said his office is identifying that land and it will also be part of this year's tax sale in September.

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