Worried about abuse, lawmaker wants change to tax collections

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – A quick check of the ABC 27 archives shows numerous examples of Midstate communities being victimized by tax collectors with sticky fingers.

Part of the problem, says Representative Ryan Mackenzie (R-Lehigh/Berks), is a loophole in the system and he’s looking to close.

“It’s a very important piece of legislation that’s gonna help protect taxpayers,” Mackenzie said of House Bill 160.

It would require taxpayers to make tax checks out not to a specific person, but to a municipality, office, title or position.

“We would prevent them (tax collectors) from depositing into their individual account, with their name on it, and it would go into a separate tax account,” Mackenzie said.

In Hampden Township, Cumberland County’s largest municipality, taxpayers remit their bills to Michael Langan.

“I’m collecting taxes and I’m paying them over to the township, to the county, as well as the county library tax and Cumberland Valley School District,” Langan said.

Langan receives and sorts 40,000 bills a year and said he has separate accounts, with separate tax ID numbers, for each of the recipients.

While he’s not opposed to Mackenzie’s proposal, he worries that changing the system could be confusing to taxpayers and tax collectors.

“There’s different bills that are being paid here with different taxing authorities,” Langan said. “I mean, are they (taxpayers) gonna write it out to Hampden Township when it’s meant for the school district? The township doesn’t want to be responsible for a school district bill.”

Langan says he and other tax collectors across the state are responsible for sorting it out.

“I’m seeing to it that it’s getting deposited where it should be deposited and paid to where it should be paid to,” Langan said.

He also pointed out that the Senate Finance Committee recently studied tax collectors in the state and made several recommendations, some of which are now taking effect. They include criminal background checks and continuing financial education for tax collectors.

Langan would like to see how those changes effect the landscape before initiating new rules.

Mackenzie concedes the overwhelming majority of tax collectors are honest and trustworthy people but says the system should be tighter.

“We think that’s ripe for abuse,” Mackenzie said. “We’ve seen plenty of instances of that.”

Langan’s seen them, too, but says all the laws in the world won’t stop a tax collector with bad intentions.

“If someone is bound and intent on stealing or manipulating the funds, they’re  gonna find a way to do it,” he said.

Mackenzie’s legislation passed the House unanimously last session but was stripped out by the Senate. He expects the House will pass HB 160 in coming days and hopes it will have a different outcome in the Senate.

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