Treasurer: Financial woes did not affect his job

February 09, 2005|BY DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Franklin County Treasurer Chris A. Bender said Tuesday that personal financial problems that led to his home being briefly listed for a sheriff's sale have not affected his performance in office, but they did cause him to waver in his decision to seek re-election.

The Fayetteville, Pa., home of Bender and his wife, Pamela J. Bender, had been listed for a sheriff's sale March 11, but attorneys for the mortgage holder asked that it be pulled and relisted for sale Friday, May 13, four days before the primary, Bender said.

"As far as I know, everything will be settled. ... Everything is up to date," Bender said. He said the foreclosure proceeding involved a second mortgage on the house, which they purchased in 1988.


"Will it affect me at election time? Time will tell," Bender said.

Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. of McLean, Va., acquired the mortgage from another company in 2001, according to records in the County Prothonotary's Office. The company filed a foreclosure notice on Oct. 15, stating no payments had been made since June 1, 2004.

By Dec. 15, when the company filed for a writ of execution on the foreclosure, courthouse documents showed the couple owed $100,721.21 on the mortgage. A judgment was entered against the Benders when they failed to file an answer to the complaint, according to court documents.

Sheriff Robert Wollyung said he received notice from the mortgage company's attorneys Jan. 18 to postpone the sale and relist it for May. Wollyung said delays are granted only at the request of the plaintiff, in this case the mortgage holder.

Bender said the couple has worked with the mortgage company and he does not expect the house will be subject to a sheriff's sale in May.

Bender said the couple incurred substantial debt, primarily on credit cards, in the 1990s, which necessitated taking out loans to pay it off.

Bender, who had been Guilford Township's tax collector, said he took "a substantial cut in pay" when elected treasurer in 2001. The treasurer's post pays $54,107 this year, according to county records.

When Bender ran for treasurer, his wife ran unsuccessfully for township tax collector, he said. Pamela Bender now works part time for the county in an unrelated office, but Bender said he was the sole wage earner for the family during the time the debts were piling up.

"When you have that amount of income, you have that amount of debt. When you take less income, that's just the way it is," he said. "It's not that I'm living frivolously."

The Benders were delinquent on property taxes for 2002, but the bill for more than $1,200 was paid Sept. 23, 2003, according to records in the County Tax Services Office.

Bender said he believed the taxes were to be escrowed and paid by the mortgage company. He said he could not recall whether they or the mortgage company paid the bill and an employee in the tax office said records are not kept on how back taxes are satisfied.

Bender said his personal financial situation has had no effect on the operation of his office.

"The audits were clean and clear," he said.

"The (County) Controller's Office audits his office every year as part of our single audit," County Administrator John Hart said Tuesday. "He's had good audits. ... As far as I know, there is nothing wrong with the way he runs his office."

Bender said he also has had to contend with questions from constituents about driving a bus for the Chambersburg Area School District. When he was tax collector, he said he drove a bus to pay for health benefits for his family.

He said he still is a substitute driver, but only drives on morning runs or to evening or weekend events, if requested. Bender said he has not driven since the fall semester.

Bender said he expects opponents will use his personal finances in an attempt to defeat him in the primary or general election.

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