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Editorial: Tarentum tax shaming is only fair

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Steve Adams | Tribune-Review
An aerial view of Tarentum. Tarentum Council has approved publicizing the names of property owners delinquent in paying their borough property taxes. Names will go on the borough’s website on May 1 unless the taxes owed are paid or the owners get on a payment plan.

If there is one thing we learned from the Puritans, it’s the societal value of public humiliation.

They might not have had good ideas about witch trials, but when it came to smaller offenses, they realized quickly that if everyone knew you did something wrong, you were probably less likely to do it again.

Today we don’t really have big wooden stocks in the middle of town to clap someone for swearing in public or skipping church on Sunday, and we don’t brand thieves. But we do still make it public when someone commits an offense.

Police reports release information about who is accused of doing what to whom. Court records are available online, whether you want to know if your daughter’s new boyfriend has an arrest record or if your contractor has defaulted on other clients. Trials are generally open for anyone who wants to attend.

Public records are, after all, public.

Among those records is who pays their taxes and who doesn’t.

Tarentum officials are making those records more than available. They’re about to put them front and center, like a pillory in the square. In this case, the modern equivalent will be publication on the borough’s website come May 1.

It might seem harsh, but what recourse does a municipality end up having if people don’t fulfill their obligations? The streets still need to be plowed and potholes still need to be filled.

According to Borough Manager Michael Nestico, there are delinquent taxes owed that total $670,000. That’s a lot of money no matter how you slice it, but placed against Tarentum’s yearly spending, it’s staggering. The back taxes equal about 20 percent of the borough’s 2019 budget.

Maybe having everyone know that you haven’t paid your taxes since 1978 (the furthest date that’s owed) would teach a valuable lesson. Council President Erika Josefoski would rather just have the money in the bank or a payment plan arranged.

“The goal is not to embarrass people,” she said.

Having people pay what they owe is not only fair to the municipality. It’s fair to the rest of the residents, whose taxes could go up at some point because of neighbors who shirked their duty.