Delinquent taxpayers to go to court

BELPRE – More than 40 people who have been delinquent in filing or paying their Belpre city income tax are expected to go before city officials in Mayor’s Court.

“We know things come up and stuff happens, but we have been patient and working with taxpayers for two years and Mayor’s Court is the final step,” said city auditor Leslie Pittenger.

In the coming weeks, Mayor Mike Lorentz and city prosecutor Andrew Webster will hear the cases of the 43 individuals whose paperwork has been filed for city income tax delinquency by Pittenger.

“Several of those people have called me and want to settle it before their court date,” Pittenger said. “Unfortunately, we have gotten to the point of no return and they must appear.”

The total amount owed was unavailable. Individual amounts owed range from $40 to $2,000.

She added that in the past two years, the city has made numerous attempts to contact and help each individual who was delinquent in paying their city income tax or filing their city income taxes.

“These court dates are for the people who did not respond to the letters we sent out inviting people to come to the city building for help filing their paperwork and setting up payment plans to accommodate the individual taxpayers,” Pittenger said. “Many of the people who owed the city money responded and are working to pay what they owe.”

Each business and individual who works or lives within the city limits pays a 1 percent income tax to the city. The money collected through city income tax is placed in the city’s general fund, which pays for the police department and fire chief, as well as city sanitation, street lights and the senior center.

“Without the city income tax, there would be little the city could provide its citizens and those who spend time here,” Pittenger said.

The crackdown on individuals delinquent in the city income tax began not long after Pittenger was elected city auditor in 2010.

“When I came into office, the city realized we had a number of taxpayers who were delinquent,” she said. “In 2011, the city began a series of things to help those people pay off what they owe and get in the right with the city.”

Income tax revenue in Belpre fell 18 percent from 2008 to 2009, due in part to a reduction in the number of employees in the city as well as a number of residents who have failed to pay their income taxes, Pittenger said.

Through the efforts of the city, in 2011, the city income tax collected was $250,000 more than the previous year. The income tax collections increased from $1,227,865 in 2011 to $1,261,364 in 2012.

In 2011, the city announced there would need to be four special Mayor’s Court sessions to deal with the delinquent city income tax payers.

In July last year, the number of warrants for delinquent city income tax payers resulted in more arrests than warrants from any other city department between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2012.

“One thing that helped the city go after those who were not paying their taxes was that the city now uses the Regional Income Tax Agency, RITA for short, to do the city income tax collection and processing and that freed up my office to look into those who were not paying,” Pittenger said.

RITA allows city income tax payers to file online, which the city could never have offered, she added.

“For less than what we were paying an employee to do the work in the city building, we have RITA do it and offer better convenience that we could never have done,” Pittenger said.