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Pandemic’s impact on tax revenue begins to become clearer

There’s no formula to determine whether the coronavirus had an economic impact resulting in more tax bill delinquencies in the communities comprising the Greater Williamsport region than before the virus emerged — but the financial picture is starting to emerge.

Williamsport has to get back about $963,000 of unpaid property taxes, said Nicholas Grimes, city tax collector and treasurer.

“We sent out $15 million in real estate tax bills in March 1 and have received $14 million in payments,” he said.

As is typical with any year, the delinquencies are sent to the Lycoming County Tax Claims to be collected, he said.

“I think it is a matter of people just needing some more time,” Grimes said.

Grimes said he was hopeful for the vaccines’ abilities to stop the surge and get the economy going. He is certain the city will take a hit from loss of business privilege and mercantile taxes in the second, third and fourth quarters.

He also noted the city adopted a budget with a half-mill tax increase, which is $50 more per tax bill, but which initially was proposed much to be higher, and the council may consider reopening the budget, with Feb. 15 as its deadline to do so.

Grimes also said despite the virus, the city rate of return on taxes was 93 percent, which remained on par with prior years, he said.

Mark Anderson, director of the county tax claims bureau and deputy assessor, said the office is in the process of collecting delinquencies from municipalities, school districts and townships, so he could was unable to verify what percentage is compared to pre-COVID-19.

Anderson held a differing view about the virus impact at this point.

“I didn’t see COVID-19 impact our collection of delinquent taxes,” he said. “We try to work with the taxpayers so they can pay their delinquent taxes.”

“People are paying their delinquent taxes every day,” Anderson said. “It truly depends on the individual.”

Dottie White Mertz, a longtime tax collector with Loyalsock Township, said she agreed with Grimes that stimulus and unemployment might have helped some people last year.

“I have no crystal ball,” she said of the situation in the year ahead.

The overall collection rate for Loyalsock Township was 97 percent.

“Our older generation save and know they have a tax bill to pay,” Mertz said. “Our younger generation frequently have it escrowed in the mortgage.”

South Williamsport borough had close to $69,000 in unpaid tax bills sent to the office because of delinquencies, according to Maria Maddy, assistant borough manager.

The exact number as of this week was $68,929, she said.

Some 77 percent collection rate took place during the discount period, 13 percent during the face period and 4 percent during the penalty phase after Aug. 31, Maddy said.

“Overall, our collections were right on par from prior years in the fact that there was a little over 5 percent not collected,” Maddy said.

“Our tax collector collects an estimated 94 percent every year,” she said.

The borough of Montoursville also reported good rate of return on tax bills.

It collected 97 percent of what was budgeted for, according to Ginny Gardner, the borough secretary and treasurer.

Attempts to reach Old Lycoming Township tax officials before press time were not successful.

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