County tax bureau finishes up first year

The agency formed to collect wage taxes in Blair County has garnered praise from auditors and members of its governing board while wrapping up its first year of processing individual tax returns.

On Dec. 31, the Blair County Tax Collection Bureau mailed out slightly more than 80,000 earned income tax forms that area residents were to file by April 15.

Even though the bulk of the returns arrived April 15 and 16, the bureau staff had opened every mailed return and deposited all funds by May 11, Bureau Executive Director Angie Whetstine recently told the bureau’s governing board.

By June 18, Whetstine said approximately 6,500 refunds had been issued totaling almost $300,000.

“I’m very pleased to let you know that,” she said.

To comply with the state’s Act 32 of 2008, a committee of municipal and school district representatives set up the tax collection bureau that tracks, collects and disburses wage tax revenue. The state pushed the legislation as a way to streamline the tax collection process that used to be handled by local tax collectors.

A recent audit of the bureau’s 2012 fiscal year showed that it distributed $18.12 million in wage tax revenue to Blair County school districts and municipalities. It also took in $5.47 million in wage taxes and other levies that it forwarded to taxing bodies outside Blair County.

Auditor Daniel Bradley of Young, Oakes, Brown & Co., was complementary, in the bureau’s 2012 audit report, of the bureau’s ability to keep up with the Act 32 requirement of disbursing funds to taxing bodies within 60 days of receipt. The turnaround time in 2013 has been shortened to 30 days from receipt to distribution.

“The bureau is proud to say that we have met that goal and will continue to meet the 30-day turn-around deadline,” Whetstine said recently.

Municipal and school district representatives added their praise for the bureau’s achievements during a recent quarterly meeting. Tyrone Area School District Superintendent Cathy Harlow described the bureau’s most recent audit as very positive.

Blair Township Secretary Betty Robertson said she and her township leaders are very pleased with the bureau staff and the collection process.

“The checks are on time ,and they’ve been bigger than ever,” Robertson said.

Blair Township also agreed, Robertson said, to have the bureau collect the Local Services Tax that the township imposes on individuals who work in the township. The decision, she said, was based on the bureau’s performance.

“They’ve done an excellent job,” Robertson said.

Grace Helsel of Greenfield Township added her praise for the bureau’s collection and disbursement of wage taxes, something Helsel once handled.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize the scope of the job, what it involves,” Helsel said. “A lot of the job involved investigating and collecting money from other locations then figuring out how much had to be sent to the municipalities and school districts.”

Altoona Controller A.C. Stickel said he’s pleased with the bureau’s achievements in response to the state’s legislation that prompted some other communities to turn to professional tax collection agencies.

Stickel, an accountant and tax preparer, said he prepared 1,100 tax returns this year.

“I had clients who had their refunds from the bureau before the tax season was over,” Stickel said.

For taxpayers who filed early, Whetstine said the bureau was able to issue refunds as early as February.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.