Cyberattack Delays Tax Collection in Luzerne County

The assessor’s office has been unable to update details about property that changed hands or was added and deleted from the tax rolls since the Pennsylvania county’s courthouse network was shut down May 28.

by Jennifer Learn-Andes, The Times-Leader / June 28, 2019

(TNS) — The mailing of school real estate tax bills must be delayed until Aug. 1 due to the cyberattack on Luzerne County government, officials announced Thursday.

With the county’s real estate assessment database still down, the county assessment office can’t complete a tax base reading known as a certification needed to generate school tax bills.

Certifications ensure tax bills incorporate the latest information on the county’s more than 167,800 parcels, including assessed values and ownership.

The assessor’s office has been unable to update details about property that changed hands or was added and deleted from the tax rolls since the county courthouse network was shut down May 28 to prevent the virus from spreading.

For now, the assessment office has access to a read-only backup copy of the database that cannot be edited with new information.

Most of the 12 school districts in the county mail their tax bills the third and fourth weeks in July, records show.

In 2018, Berwick Area sent its bills the first week of July, and bills were mailed around the end of the second week of July in the Dallas School District.

Two districts — Greater Nanticoke Area and Northwest Area — mailed their bills the first week of August last year.

Once the assessment database is restored, completion of the tax certification “will be the top priority,” county Budget/Finance Division Head Brian Swetz told school districts in a communication Thursday.

The assessment office is committed to “putting in the necessary overtime” to enter backlogged assessment data into the system and complete the certification in an “expeditious and accurate manner,” Swetz wrote.

Swetz advised school districts to move their bill issue dates to Aug. 1 and said the county will provide an update on the status of the database restoration and certification on July 15.

“We apologize for this inconvenience. However, the office has been the victim of a cyberattack, and we are taking all necessary steps to restore the system in a safe and secure cyberenvironment,” Swetz wrote. “We appreciate your patience in this difficult time.”

Another option — basing school tax bills on information from the last certification completed Jan. 9 — likely would result in inaccuracies on properties that have been altered since then.

Pittston Area School Board member John Adonizio said the situation must be closely monitored because real estate taxes make up a significant portion of budgeted revenue in his district and others, but he was sympathetic to the county’s struggle recovering from the cyber attack, describing it as “scary.”

Adonizio said he is confident the district’s business manager and other officials will work with the county to minimize disruption. The school board has worked to build a fund balance and won’t increase real estate taxes this year, he said.

“We’re in a stable place now,” Adonizio said.

Wilkes-Barre Area School District Solicitor Ray Wendolowski said he would be reviewing the matter with the business manager and other officials.

©2019 The Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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