New tax collector can be one more April headache
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You get a city tax return in the mail from a private company, along with a letter that says you must file your taxes through this company.
Trouble is you don't know it from a bucket of rocks.
"It had the semi-legit look to it, but it didn't look too legit," Michele Gittleman of Squirrel Hill said of the letter she received a few months ago from Jordan Tax Service Inc.
She's wary of credit card scams and this "really had that feel to it," she said.
The letter actually was legitimate, but nobody told Ms. Gittleman that a change in state law had set off a chain of events that ended with Jordan being named to collect taxes for Pittsburgh and other tax jurisdictions (maybe yours). So after checking the city website and finding no link to Jordan, she tossed the form and letter in the trash.
Fast forward to last week. Ms. Gittleman is doing her federal and state taxes online. She wants to do the same for the city, and she finds links pointing her toward Jordan.
"We're a digital family," she said, but this link said she'd need a pin number to file online. So she called the number on Jordan's website.
The Jordan rep wouldn't give Ms. Gittleman a pin number, even when she offered to state her Social Security number. The rep said she just couldn't be sure Ms. Gittleman was who she said she was.
What the? There are people who give up a Social Security number in order to file taxes nefariously?
(Evidently, there are. Ms. Gittleman vented about this on her Facebook page, and a friend posted: "Our CPA tells the story of one of his clients who had someone else file an income tax return in his name to get the refund.")
Ms. Gittleman said even the Internal Revenue Service was able to give her a pin number in about three minutes when she went to its site while filing federal taxes.
The Jordan rep kindly walked her through the process of printing out a paper form from its site, but Ms. Gittleman found it odd that the local filing system was more tedious than that of the IRS. The federal government already has its money through a direct debit of her checking account, while a strapped city and school district will have to wait for her tax check to arrive in the mail.
Dan Gilman, chief of staff for Councilman Bill Peduto, said the council office took numerous calls from constituents who were confused by the Jordan mailing. "It was a widespread problem," Mr. Gilman said.
The taxes must be filed with Jordan no later than Tuesday, either by mail or the Internet, so the city should know shortly if this is a big problem or just a touch of April foolishness.
The irony is that the state's overhaul of wage tax collection -- or "earned income taxes" -- was supposed to streamline the collection process. The number of tax collectors in Pennsylvania was reduced from 560 to 69, with Allegheny County divided four ways: three large suburban districts plus the city/school district/Mount Oliver.
The city wanted to continue collecting this tax as it always had, city Finance Director Scott Kunka said, and matched Jordan's price. But the school district, which receives the majority of the 3 percent wage tax, "pulled rank" and opted for Jordan, Mr. Kunka said. Under the state law, the city was outvoted by the entity getting the lion's share of the tax.
The contract called for Jordan to initiate a "public education campaign," Mr. Kunka said.
If there was any campaign beyond the letter Jordan included with the tax forms it mailed last winter, it didn't work very well. I left messages for both Jordan and the school district Friday but was unable to get a return call.
With wage taxes coming out of paychecks each week, the city already has its money from most wage-earners. Everyone's still required to file, though, and the lawyers and others who pay quarterly should know that ignorance of the law, or of what Jordan Tax Service is, is no excuse.
City residents can call 311 and, Mr. Kunka says, finance department workers will assist them.
That should be a nice change. The workers have mostly been helping people freaking out over county real estate assessments.
This new system, gentle taxpayer, is "privatization" at work. That word generally sounds better than "government bureaucracy," but not if you've lost your pin number.
First Published April 15, 2012 1:14 pm