Mahoning Township tax collector Richard P. Swarcheck said this morning that he will be back in his office today, tomorrow and Saturday.
Days after losing a three-way race for the Democratic nomination for tax collector in Mahoning Township, Swarcheck was nowhere to be found. Calls to his office phone were met with either a busy signal or the shrill tone of a fax line.
"An emergency came up and I had to leave," he said when reached at his home early Thursday.
On Wednesday, irate and worried taxpayers stood around at Swarcheck's office at 307 Ashtown Drive. Some walked up the long ramp leading to the front door, peering through the glass. Mostly, they stood sweating in the unseasonable heat, wondering how they would be able to get their bills paid in time to get a 2 percent discount when the township's tax collector was unaccounted for.
To get the discount, the tax bills must be paid by May 31. Carbon County Commissioners Chairman Wayne Nothstein said tax bills can be sent to Swarcheck via certified mail as proof they were paid in time.
Swarcheck's office is typically open Mondays, Tuesdays and Saturdays. The office, however, has been closed all this week. On Tuesday, a sign taped to the door said Swarcheck would have the office open on Wednesday, May 29.
But, come Wednesday morning, the sign was gone, and so was Swarcheck. On Thursday morning, Swarcheck said he had intended to return Wednesday, but was unable to do so, and so had the sign removed.
About 30 people had come to the office to pay their taxes on Wednesday morning, as had several people on Tuesday.
"I was here yesterday, drove by about 10 o'clock and we were told not to even bother showing up. Not even to bother coming up into the driveway," taxpayer Paul Stecyna said early Wednesday afternoon. "There were people here yesterday just saying 'forget it'. He wasn't even here. there was a sign on the door, people were saying, that he wasn't going to be here until later today (Wednesday). Nobody knows exactly what time he was going to come or anything."
Eugenia Podolak lives on Social Security. She was worried about the discount. Podolak was at the tax office on Tuesday and on Wednesday.
"I do not want to pay interest," she said. "I cannot afford to pay interest."
A visit to Swarcheck's home early Wednesday afternoon drew no response to knocks and doorbell rings at the front and back doors. Two cars were parked in the driveway, and the blinds were drawn. A Mahoning Township police officer visited the home briefly in the early afternoon to check on Swarcheck's well-being, according to a televised news report.
His accounting office, at 269 W. Ludlow St., Summit Hill, yielded similar results. An electric candle burned in the front window of the darkened building; no one answered repeated knocks on the door.
Later in the afternoon, a different group of frustrated taxpayers milled around the closed office on Ashtown Drive.
One, Nancy Kreitz, said this was not the first time taxpayers had arrived to find the office closed when it was to have been open. Kreitz had also been at the office on Tuesday afternoon. She showed a reporter a sign on the back door of the office, which said people could put their returns through a mail slot in the back door.
Kreitz was uneasy about doing that.
"What if you drop it off and something happens? You have no proof you paid your taxes. It's scary," she said.
Swarcheck was impatient when told of the taxpayers' frustration.
"Why don't they call my secretary?" he said.
He gave that telephone number as (570) 645-2347.
Swarcheck was appointed to the office in September 2009, following the death of his wife, Joanne, who had served as township tax collector. He was subsequently elected to a four-year term in 2010. That term would end at the close of this year.
Swarcheck campaigned for election to another term in office, but lost the three-way May 21 Primary Election race to Pauline F. Homm.
Homm got 129 votes; Swarcheck received 85 votes, and the third candidate, Kerry Verrastro, garnered 52 votes.
That means Homm will face Republican candidate Todd A. Kollar in the November general election.