Three Panther Valley School Board members have been removed as defendants from a recent suit that Carbon County filed against the school district.
During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, the board voted 2-0 to remove R. Mickey Angst, Tom Shober, and Anthony DeMarco from a mandamus action, which the county filed last week against the Panther Valley School District for the return of its delinquent tax records from 2000 to the present. Commissioner Wayne Nothstein was absent.
The motion, which was made by Commissioner Charles Getz, and seconded by Commissioner William O'Gurek, chairman, came after Angst approached the board and showed minutes from previous meetings that proved he and Shober were not on the board in 2000, when the district voted to hire Portnoff Law Associates Ltd. of Norristown, a private tax collection agency, as the district's delinquent tax collector.
Angst also provided proof that on March 18, 2008, he and DeMarco voted against retaining Portnoff, and Shober was absent from the board meeting.
He said he has been against using Portnoff since he first heard about them as a Nesquehoning Borough Council member, and agrees with the county's position.
"I call them bill collectors," Angst said. "They (Portnoff) are overcharging Philadelphia mainline snobs."
He said the company tacks on too many fees to allow delinquent taxpayers to get out of debt.
"I spoke up at a previous meeting that we change (tax collectors) at the end of a tax year," Angst said. "But now I want change tomorrow."
Angst also said he had taken measures to hire an attorney to defend him in this matter.
He then asked if the three board members would be removed from the suit.
O'Gurek said the county did not have the information on who voted against Portnoff when its legal counsel, attorney Jane Roach Maughan of Stroudsburg, filed the suit, so it was advised to name all board members as defendants.
He added that board members would be removed from the case once the Panther Valley School District takes responsibility. It was noted that Panther Valley is holding a special meeting tonight at 6 p.m., but no explanation as to what the meeting is about was released in the legal notice, published in the TIMES NEWS on Wednesday.
O'Gurek explained that the reason for the suit against the district was because of its lack of cooperation with the county's requests. The five taxing bodies Jim Thorpe, Weatherly, Panther Valley, and Hazleton school districts, as well as the borough of Summit Hill that utilized Portnoff at one time or another were invited to attend a meeting that discussed why the county tax claim bureau needs the records, and how this affects county residents. Panther Valley failed to respond to any invitations or requests.
"The people are being held hostage," O'Gurek said, noting that when a person goes to buy a home in the Panther Valley School District, they cannot get full, accurate tax records from the tax claim bureau and are charged anywhere between $25 and $50 for the current tax records from Portnoff.
The case against Panther Valley for the return of its delinquent tax records to the Carbon County Tax Claim Bureau was filed in the county prothonotary's office last Friday.
Originally listed as defendants were Panther Valley School District, Superintendent Rosemary Porembo, Ronald Slivka, Anthony Pondish, DeMarco, David Hiles, Shober, William Hunsicker, Jeff Markovich, Donna Trimmel, and Angst, in their capacity as members of the Panther Valley School District School Board.
The court action seeks to have delinquent tax records that were collected by Portnoff, the firm hired by the school district to pursue the collection of delinquent real estate taxes from 2000 to the present, returned to the county, so that its tax claim bureau can have complete records of all property liens and delinquencies. It also seeks to obtain the 5 percent commission for each delinquent tax collection that the bureau is entitled to under the Pennsylvania Real Estate Tax Sale Law. According to the suit, that commission owed is at least $323,000 or more.
Panther Valley used Portnoff because the company promised to get the delinquent tax money faster than the county, and its services would be of no charge to the district. The added expense for their services would instead be added to the delinquent taxpayer's bill.