Westmoreland County property owners will have more time to pay their 2020 county real estate taxes at a discounted rate and will have until the end of the year to pay without penalty.
The Westmoreland County Commissioners on Thursday approved a resolution extending the discount period for property tax payments until the end of August and eliminating fees or penalties on tax payments made before the end of the year. The resolution is in line with state legislation, Senate Bill 841, which was recently signed into law allowing municipal governments to extend the tax deadlines.
“The citizens have been contacting the commissioners’ office asking for relief,” on property tax deadlines, commissioners chairman Sean Kertes said. “... We have to take time and think about people right now that don’t have jobs or unemployment. We’re taking this very seriously and looking out for the best interest of Westmoreland County.”
“We understand that everybody in Westmoreland County is suffering,” Commissioner Gina Cerilli said. “... We don’t want to put an extra burden on the taxpayers right now. We are going to extend those deadlines and all the additional expenses that came with COVID-19, we are actively working to be reimbursed from the state and federal government for those expenses.”
Following Thursday’s meeting, the commissioners also weighed in on Gov. Tom Wolf’s plans for a phased-in approach beginning May 8 for the regional reopening of Pennsylvania as coronavirus cases lessen.
“We have to sit down with our public safety officials and our coronavirus task force to devise an intelligent plan about how to reopen,” Kertes said.
“We want to open up this county as soon as possible.”
“We’re still two weeks away from the May 8 deadline. We will be talking about it, but we can’t plan anything in advance right now,” Cerilli added.
Wolf’s website includes a section devoted to the process for reopening the state from coronavirus restrictions.
That information is available at governor.pa.gov/process-to-reopen-pennsylvania.
Wolf’s reopening plan divides counties into six geographic regions, where shutdown rules may be relaxed once fewer than one person in 2,000 has been infected over the past two weeks.
Commissioner Doug Chew noted that Westmoreland County hasn’t exceeded that rate since the start of restrictions.
“By (Wolf’s) metrics, we’ve never been that high,” Chew said.
State Department of Health figures show that Westmoreland County has only had one day since April 12 with more than 10 new coronavirus cases reported. According to the health department, 3,801 coronavirus tests have been administered in Westmoreland County, with 307 positive tests as of the last update at noon Thursday.
Westmoreland County has a population of around 350,000, equating to a 14-day threshold of roughly 175 new cases.
According to a map posted on the website with Wolf’s reopening plan, Westmoreland County is part of the southwest region along with 10 other counties: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Somerset and Washington.
Throughout the southwest region, according to the state health department, there had been 2,215 positive cases reported as of the most recent update, 25,819 negative test results and 17 inconclusive tests.
Wolf said he believes two regions — the northcentral and northwest, both of which have seen relatively few cases — will be ready for a limited reopening on May 8, with residents permitted to leave their homes at will, and some retail shops allowed to accept customers.
But the case count isn’t the only metric, officials said Thursday. The availability of diagnostic testing, the capacity of the health care system and the ability to quickly identify and contain flareups through what’s known as contact tracing will also play a role. The state health department will also use a new modeling tool by Carnegie Mellon University.
A manageable number of new virus infections each day will be “very important, it’s something we can measure and put down on paper, but it’s not the only measure that we’re going to be looking at,” said the state’s health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine.
Even in areas where some semblance of normalcy returns, Levine said she still wants people to wear masks in public and to keep their distance from each other to help prevent a resurgence of the virus.
In other business of note, the commissioners approved:
- A list of more than 440 employee furloughs as of April 4;
- Another schedule modification and revised completion dates for the preliminary design phase and right-of-way acquisition services phase of the Westmoreland County Brewery Bridge project on Ligonier Street in Latrobe. The commissioners extended the timeframe for preliminary design work by an additional 186 days and for right-of-way acquisition by an additional 183, both to Dec. 3, because of delays with state and federal permits and the need for a temporary construction easement;
- A professional services agreement with Amerisafe Group to provide trained professionals to serve as screeners of elected officials, employees, patrons and vendors as they arrive at Westmoreland County Courthouse during the COVID-19 pandemic. The term of the agreement is April 8 through May 1, with the county’s sole option to extend the agreement. The county will pay $60 per hour ($90 per hour for overtime) along with equipment cost of personal protective equipment and digital thermometers.