A look at our Tax Office team and some of the most frequent questions they get from residents.
It’s Tax TIME, so this Department Spotlight is geared to our Tax TEAM: Sherrie Jakeman, Donna Dolan, Jesse Civello, and Stephen Burns, Esq., Interim Finance Officer. As a Team, the Cheltenham Tax Office has over 35 years of service to the Cheltenham Taxpayers and Business Community.
The Home Rule Charter requires that the appointed Finance Officer collect all taxes levied within Cheltenham Township, and that core responsibility shapes the functions of the Tax Office. An “average” day for this department fluctuates with the ebbs and flows of different tax seasons. During busy seasons, all phone lines may be ringing while residents are lined up at the office to pay, while the team also works to process hundreds of payments received by mail, enter payments into the computer systems and handle the banking. Over the course of a year, they process about 11,000 township/county tax payments (mostly during the spring), 11,000 school tax payments (mostly summer and early fall) and several thousand business privilege tax returns.
Tax Certification requests are handled by Donna, who processes these requests as soon as payment is received. Real Estate Tax Bills are pulled and processed by all staff members, Sherrie often leading the charge to process payments in the timeliest manner possible. Business Privilege Returns start to roll in beginning in March, and after the federal tax deadline is met, processing the Township’s Mercantile and Business Privilege Returns becomes a focused mission for Jesse. Through all these tasks, Tax Team members pitch in wherever needed and step up to solve the myriad questions and concerns that residents pose.
Tax Office phones are almost constantly ringing with calls from residents, realtors, title companies, mortgage companies, and business owners. The staff understands that residents may feel frustrated if they have to leave a voicemail, but at times when they are performing tasks such as scanning payments, performing calculations, or receiving in-person payments, they cannot pause to answer the phone, as it might risk a calculation or data error. Calls are returned when staff is available. For those who have to wait on a return call, the staff states that many questions they field can be answered by reading the bill, which includes all information necessary for payment of taxes.
For readers’ benefit, the Tax Team also gave a list of some commonly asked questions posed by the residents:
When are my taxes due? While most residents are familiar with the April 15 tax deadline that resonates well beyond Cheltenham’s borders, there are several other deadlines that keep the Tax Team busy, such as the discount and face dates for County and Township taxes, which are similar year to year, and of course the discount and face deadlines for School taxes.
For 2021, the 2% discount deadline for County and Township taxes is April 5, the face deadline is June 3, and any County and Township tax payments received after June 3 will be paid at a ten percent (10%) penalty. The School tax deadlines for 2021 have not been finalized - but the usual discount date is around September 3 and the face date around November 3. For the Township’s Mercantile and Business Privilege Tax, the 2021 deadline has been extended to match the IRS extended federal filing deadline of Monday, May 17.
What are your hours and are you open? All Team members work in the office Monday through Friday. The office is fully functional; however, at this time the doors are not open to the public due to COVID-19. Residents are asked to leave their payments in the lock box at the door, which is checked daily and processed by staff. Residents will be mailed receipts of their payment. The Tax Team thanks everyone for their understanding during this time.
How much are my taxes? As far as tax amounts go, every resident’s tax bill is different and is based on the assessed value of the resident’s property as determined by the Montgomery County Board of Assessment Appeals.
Does the assessed value of my property change when I sell my house? Assessed values of properties are only changed if there is a county-wide reassessment (which last occurred more than 20 years ago) or if there is an assessment appeal filed or capital improvements are made to the property.
I lost my bill--can you help me? Yes, contact the office to have another copy of your bill emailed to you or mailed to you!
Is there a senior tax discount? As much as we love to help our residents and especially our seniors, unfortunately, there is no true senior tax discount. There are, however, partial rebates offered by the State Department of Revenue, which need to be applied for directly with the state. Most tax preparers, and State Representative Nelson’s office, are able to assist with this. The Homestead Exclusion (school tax bill only) is available to all residents who have been in their property as a primary residence for at least one year.
Do I have to pay school taxes since I don’t have children in the schools? School taxes, which make up the majority of the real estate tax bill, are paid by all property owners regardless of whether they have students in the Cheltenham Township School District. The public school system in Pennsylvania has always been funded by property owners through the school tax, believing communities are improved by investment in public education. While the Township Tax Office is the collector of the school tax bill, the school district sets its own budget, and the school taxes fund the school system only. In much the same way as Township property taxes fund libraries, whether or not all residents use them, the school property taxes fund the school district, regardless of whether the property owner has children in the schools.
Beyond the above, the Tax Office staff is there to help residents with any tax related issue and strives to direct them to the right department if they are unable to personally assist. The most difficult part of the job for these tax personnel is working with flustered residents and hearing heartbreaking stories. The Tax Office Team strives to meet each difficulty and misunderstanding with kindness, but asks that residents afford them this same attitude of patience. In the last year, the Tax Team underwent a physical office space move and leadership changes in the elected Finance Officer position—all during the midst of the pandemic. The Cheltenham Tax Office prides itself on its team mentality and the ability to serve the community in one of the most visible capacities of local government work.
The Tax Team must indeed be a well-oiled machine, because when asked about their favorite part of working in the Tax Office, they gave the following answers:
Sherrie: “My coworkers.”
Donna: “My coworkers.”
Jesse: “My coworkers.”
Steve, back on the team as Interim Finance Officer just for the past few months: “Knowing that I was able to help the Township by temporarily coming out of retirement!”
Overall, the Tax Office employees take on each day with a team effort and a problem solving mentality, understanding that roles change, deadlines come and go - but the resolve to serve the residents of Cheltenham Township remains the same!