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FARRELL Tax effort goes only so-so



Published: Sun, February 3, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Many of the taxable properties are now just vacant lots, and many are now owned by tax-exempt government entities.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

FARRELL, Pa. -- Hiring a Pittsburgh law firm to go after an estimated $630,000 in delinquent school property taxes hasn't been much of a success, but school officials say they aren't disappointed.

The Farrell Area School Board hired Maiello, Andrews & amp; Price in January 2000 to try to collect those taxes to help ease the district's financial crunch.

Two years later, the firm has collected $10,048 of that debt, said Ronald Pendel, school district business administrator.

Minus the collection fee, the net payment to the school district has been $9,347, he said.

Still pleased: Superintendent Richard Rubano said that he is pleased with the results but that,"Obviously, I had hoped there would be a lot more dollars coming in."

Michael Wright, school board president, said he wasn't surprised by the numbers.

"I didn't think they would collect much," Wright said.

A lot of the uncollected taxes handed over to Maiello, Andrews & amp; Price were probably for houses and other buildings that no longer exist. Where they once stood, only empty lots can now be found, Wright said.

Atty. Lawrence Maiello said Wright's assumption is correct.

"Many of them are vacant lots," he said, adding that many others are now in the name of various government entities that don't have to pay taxes.

Maiello said he wasn't surprised by the low return, explaining that his firm had reviewed the tax information before it started and anticipated that many buildings on which the taxes were based are now gone.

Bogged down: The process has been slowed because the firm has to get much of its information through the Mercer County Tax Claim Bureau, which has other priorities it must deal with besides helping Maiello, Andrews & amp; Price track down back taxes, he said.

Once the firm locates a delinquent taxpayer, it generally makes arrangements for the debt to be paid off in installment payments rather than a lump sum, Maiello said.

One problem with that plan is that people making those payments sometimes just go back to the city or county tax office to make a payment rather than sending their payment directly to Maiello, Andrews & amp; Price, he said.

Sometimes the firm isn't notified of those payments and contacts the taxpayer again, thinking he or she is delinquent, he said.

Rubano said the firm has been "very taxpayer friendly" in its approach.

Pendel agreed, noting the firm has been able to work out payment schedules with delinquents and hasn't had to seize any personal property to pay off a tax debt.

Not discouraged: "They're doing a good job. It's not as good as we'd have liked," Pendel said, adding, "In Farrell School District, any little bit helps. We're certainly not complaining."

Wright agreed.

"Whatever they collect, we'll take," he said.

Maiello said his firm isn't discouraged and will continue its efforts.




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