In the old days, if you didn't like your tax collector or if the tax collector wasn't cooperative, you could vote him or her out of office at election time.

You can still do that for collectors of real estate taxes.

State lawmakers, though, passed legislation two or three years ago mandating that one tax collector be responsible for collecting all the earned income taxes in the entire county. This tax collector isn't elected. It's appointed.

An earned income tax is paid by working folks; individuals who get paid wages or are self-employed. Seniors on Social Security or pensions don't have to pay it. You don't pay it on investments or retirement plan income. Your interest isn't subject to the tax.

Yet, this week, literally hundreds of local people who don't have to pay the tax got notices that they must fill out a form proving this by September 3.

Individuals who get only Social Security and whose income is under a specific amount don't have to file state income tax forms. They don't have to file forms with the IRS.

Now, they get a surprise from the people at Berkheimer Associates, who collect to the local Earned Income Taxes.

Berkheimer could easily cross-reference names with the IRS or the Pa. Department of Revenue on eligibility of filing. Instead, they sent what amounts to harassing letters and forms to individuals who don't have to pay taxes.

And, if the form is not filled out, there may be a minimum service fee of $50 assessed on any additional notices. How scary is that for many seniors who already are on a shoestring budget!

This means that many individuals who have no tax obligations must now run to a paid preparer because they don't understand the concept of the earning income tax and pay a fee for their services.

It means they might get fined if they ignore the notice.

Tax preparers are being flooded with calls from individuals who got the notices and are panicking that either they might be in trouble or they are going to be fined.

This is not a friendly way of collecting taxes. It is intimidation. It is strong-arming innocent individuals who shouldn't have to file tax forms.

Those individuals who don't have income might end up putting figures on the form and paying a tax that they shouldn't pay just out of confusion. This is not right.

Thank you, state lawmakers, for giving a taxing authority such a mighty hammer. Little wonder why people hate government. Innocent people getting letters with threatening fines and demanding information they shouldn't have to submit is just wrong.

Government without representation is getting bigger, as evidenced by this tax collector's letter campaign.

If a person is exempt from paying taxes, why must that person fill out tax forms? Again. The IRS doesn't require it. The Pa. Department of Revenue doesn't require it.

Why should local tax collection be any different?

Hopefully, state lawmakers will very quickly enact some type of legislation halting such ridiculout tax collection antics, and bring these appointed tax collectors under control.

By RON GOWER

rgower@tnonline.com