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Taxes to be added onto services



Published: Wed, June 22, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Marriage licenses would be exempt from taxation.

MERCER, Pa. -- The State Department of Revenue wants counties to start charging state sales tax on eligible services, a request that Mercer County Fiscal Director John Logan says would place "a significant administrative burden" on Mercer County.

Commissioners have been informed by Douglas Hill, executive director of the County Commissioners' Association of Pennsylvania, that a work group is set to meet in July to sort out the issues involved, such as what transactions are taxable and the accounting details of complying. Commissioners Michele Brooks and Brian Beader discussed the letter at their Chief Clerk's meeting Tuesday; Commissioner Olivia Lazor was out of town.

Mercer is one of 44 counties out of Pennsylvania's 67 that do not charge the 6 percent sales tax. The 23 counties that do collect the tax, apparently do so for individual departmental operations such as prison commissaries, Hill's letter states.

Implementing the sales tax could mean having to hire additional personnel to oversee collection, accounting and submission of the tax to the state, officials said.

State audit

According to Hill's letter, the State Revenue Department discovered during an audit of a private title search company that Montgomery County had not charged a title search company sales tax on copying services. The title search company said it had not been asked to pay the tax. The revenue department then "entered discussions" with Montgomery County about which transactions are taxable and has now turned its attention to enforcing the tax among all of Pennsylvania's counties.

While some services would be exempt from taxation, such as issuance of marriage licenses, others, such as issuing copies of some documents, would be taxable, Mercer County Controller Thomas Amundsen said. Director of Administrative Services Bill Boyle said offices such as treasurer, recorder, clerk of courts and prothonotary would be most impacted.

Hill said the state has agreed not to pursue the counties for collection of money that should have been paid on past taxation, nor will it be auditing any counties.

However, it will convene a group of commissioners, row office and court representatives to review all county transactions to determine which are taxable and in what circumstances; determine how counties' accounting systems will track the tax; set a workable compliance schedule; and develop guidance, training and transition advice.

Software upgrade

Also Tuesday, Amundsen said he has narrowed the field from nine to two companies for purchase of a new software system for the county's computer system. A decision is expected in the next week to 10 days.

He said he is asking input from the county's MIS office as well as from individual office holders to ensure there is agreement on the best software to buy. The county code does not require competitive bidding for software, he said.

The software will replace the county's current system which is 7 years old. It will take over the entire financial package including accounts receivable and payable, billing, payroll and fixed assets. It will also make state-mandated reporting easier, as well as allowing quicker access to "real time" data, he said.

The system, which will cost $240,000 plus additional costs for training, will be paid for with money earmarked from 2004 capital improvements millage. A new system is sorely needed because of the outmoded nature of the current software, Amundsen said. The county is still running with a MS-DOS mainframe. The new system would put county functions on a Windows system.

New jail decor

Also Tuesday, commissioners opened bids on mattresses and linens for the new jail.

Commissioner Michele Brooks questioned Beader's suggestion to sell county equipment such as chairs and old computer monitors that are out of date or heavily used.

Brooks asked why the items couldn't be used in the new jail instead of buying new equipment. She said it is foolish to buy new chairs for the new jail when there are old ones that are usable. She also said monitors that are relatively slow could still be used instead of buying new ones. Boyle said the chairs could be sold for a few dollars but are in such bad shape, he would not ask a county employee to sit in one all day. Brooks said she wanted to look at the equipment before she would agree to its sale.




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