We predict the RITA conversion will pay dividends for city of Niles

It was with great reluctance that Niles elected officials finally agreed to outsource the city’s Income Tax Department in an attempt to save funds.

We’ve known since 2014 of the city’s financial struggles brought on largely by spending that has outpaced its revenue for nearly a decade, sometimes by millions of dollars a year.

That’s why we knew it was the right move to find ways to cut costs, even when they aren’t popular ones. Transferring the city’s income tax duties to the Regional Income Tax Agency, or RITA, was the correct decision. It’s just too bad that it took so long to get to this point.

Now that the city’s elected officials have agreed to the move, it’s time for local residents to also understand that this move is not so scary, after all.

Some opponents of the move fear the personal touch provided by the city’s Income Tax Department will disappear. Amy Arrighi, Chief Legal Counsel at RITA this week said, however, the statewide agency does operate a fully staffed Salt Springs Road, Youngstown office, just about a 10-minute drive from Niles. The office is open year round, and extends hours into the evening during tax season.

Telephone inquiries are welcomed and online accounts can be created for quick access, she explained.

Other opponents also have worried that the city’s senior citizens may suffer the most because they may not be computer-savvy or they may have come to rely on the city’s income tax workers to help them prepare their tax documents.

In reality, however, very few senior citizens are required to file and pay taxes. Retired people often draw their income from pensions, Social Security, other deferred compensation accounts or savings, exempting most from filing tax returns.

In the long run, we predict this move will help the city turn the corner on its fiscal emergency status, and use neighboring Girard as an example.

Girard had struggled through the same worries more than a decade ago when it, too, faced state fiscal oversight. Mayor Jim Melfi supported the move to RITA, also in an attempt to save money for that financially strapped city.

This week, Melfi recalled how unpopular that decision was at the time, but noted how well the transition went and said his city continues to see great success with RITA. Savings topped $75,000 the first year and collections increased by 11 percent, Melfi said.

He attributed those increased collections to the skills of the CPAs, attorneys and paralegals employed by RITA.

Likewise, Arrighi of RITA attributes those types of increased collections to ongoing compliance programs the agency operates, including communication with area employers, coupled with the relationship and taxpayer information the agency exchanges with the Internal Revenue Service in attempts to identify non-filers or those who may not be reporting total income.

RITA is eager to get started in Niles and anticipates a smooth transition. That is already underway as the agency prepares to send introductory letters to taxpayers.

We believe the residents of Niles should welcome the agency and give it a fair chance. At the end of the day, the move should serve to save taxpayers money and ensure that everyone is paying their fair share.