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Schuylkill Commissioners Divided on Hiring Luzerne Company to Manage Judicial Property Tax Sales

Schuylkill County Commissioners butted heads Wednesday on the hiring of a Luzerne County firm being brought in to help manage sales of properties delinquent on taxes.

The Commissioners voted 2-1 in favor of contracting Elite Revenue Solutions LLC, Wilkes-Barre, “for judicial sale assistance for the Tax Claim office.”

Republicans Boots Hetherington and George Halcovage voted in favor of bringing on the company. Democrat Gary Hess opposed it, wishing to table the action for a future meeting.

On Wednesday’s public meeting agenda, details of the contract with Elite Revenue Solutions were not provided to the public. The agenda reads as follows with regard to the contract the Commissioners approved:

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“The fee for service rates are attached to your packet.”

But the County does not provide a “packet” to the public ahead of Commissioners meetings.

Hess had little knowledge of the company his colleagues were planning to hire.

When it came time to vote on the matter Wednesday, Hess’ attempt to push off the decision to a later date was ignored. So, he voted “No, because I’m not ready to vote.”

He asked either of his fellow Commissioners and County Administrator Gary Bender, “Was any other company looked at other than this Elite company?”

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Bender replied that the County hadn’t considered any other firm to provide “judicial sale assistance for the Tax Claim office.” He added that the Commissioners were voting based on the lone recommendation the County got on solving its obvious issues with judicial property tax sales.

That recommendation likely came from Anthony Alu, one of two consultants hired earlier this year by the Commissioners to overhaul the Tax Claims offices at the Courthouse. Alu was previously the Luzerne County Assessment Director.

“They run the whole Tax Claim office up in Luzerne County,” Bender explained to Hess.

Shady Past to Elite Revenue Solutions LLC

Prior to 2020, Elite Revenue Solutions was known as Northeast Revenue Solutions.

The former brand had its name marred by a pay-to-play corruption scandal that involved now-incarcerated Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright. The company then known as Northeast Revenue Solutions was reportedly pressured into paying a bribe to Courtright’s office for work within the city.

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The company rebranded last year and maintains it has worked with investigators on corruption allegations.

“We realize there have been some issues. Those issues have been resolved,” Bender said, trying to assure a skeptical Hess.

Bender added Elite Revenue has been “doing a great job up (in Luzerne County). We felt comfortable bringing them on here.

Privatizing the Tax Claim Office? Was This the Plan All Along?

Based on what Elite Revenue Solutions does, it’s likely this contract with Schuylkill County could be a sign the Courthouse is looking to privatize the Tax Claims office there.

Alu was one of two consultants brought in earlier this year to execute an overhaul of the office, which was described as “not working out” at the time. Outside of some interim hires in the office, and the attempted firing of two employees there, we’ve seen very little in the way of results from that consulting work.

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Wednesday’s vote was a clear sign that the consulting work really hasn’t produced any results so far. In fact, it could be argued the Tax Claim situation is worse than when the Commissioners declared what had been in place wasn’t working.

But perhaps that was the plan all along: blow up the office (figuratively) and then hire a private company to run the operation instead.

Another Potential Jane Doe Complication?

The decision to hire Elite Revenue Solutions could be seen as another move against at least 2 of the 4 Jane Doe plaintiffs who filed a federal sexual harassment and workplace intimidation lawsuit against Halcovage, Bender, and others at the Courthouse. Those 2 women work in the Tax Claims office at the Courthouse but have been serving an indefinite suspension from their jobs over a controversy involving personal use of a government computer.

The woman say they’re being subjected to retaliation over their coming forward with allegations against the higher-up County officials.

Previous determinations by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have said the women at the Courthouse have been subject to retaliation through the actions of the Commissioners and Bender, including their suspension and recent pay cuts.

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