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TAX COLLECTING CONTROVERSY BOILS OVER

Elma officials believe a lockbox will make tax collections more efficient.

The town's tax collector, however, believes town officials are locking him out of the decision.

The controversy erupted Wednesday evening during a workshop meeting of the Town Board, which is considering a JPMorgan Chase Bank lockbox to eliminate long lines during tax season.

Under the lockbox system, tax payments would be mailed to a post office box and payments deposited daily into an account that would pay the town 1.35 percent. Officials said the interest would offset the cost of the new system of about $4,000 per tax collection period.

Conspicuous in his absence from Wednesday's session was Frank Kester, the town's tax collector, who said later he didn't find out the lockbox would be on the agenda until late Wednesday morning, when a town employee brought it to his attention.

Kester said he was angered no one contacted him officially to attend the meeting. "I have an answering machine and there is such a thing as office memos," said Kester, who believes the lockbox "is just one more way . . . of trying to combine my job with the town clerks."

During the meeting, Supervisor Michael Nolan bristled when board member Dean Puleo said he was uncomfortable discussing the lockbox issue without Kester present.

"I have been in this position for 11 months now and that department (tax collection) is inefficient," said Nolan, who added that he had been unable to reach Kester for three days.

Kester, meanwhile, said the daily interest earned from mail-in lockbox deposits is no better than what is received by the town currently through money market accounts.

Town officials said under the new system, walk-ins to the tax collector's office still would be encouraged. The payments then would be forwarded by Federal Express to the lockbox.

Nolan noted that currently, $13 million in payments through the tax collector's office is handled manually.

After the meeting, board member Susan Glownia said thousands of dollars in interest are being lost under the current system because payments are not being deposited on a daily basis.

Frederick M. Vosburgh of JPMorgan Chase said the lockbox could be instituted as early as mid-December.

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