Northeast Times

Bill would help delinquent property taxpayers pay up

City Coun­cil is con­sid­er­ing a bill aimed at help­ing — and prod­ding — de­lin­quent prop­erty tax­pay­ers to start pay­ing their shares of the more than half-bil­lion bucks in back taxes Phil­adelphia is owed.

The meas­ure was put to­geth­er by Coun­cil­men Bill Green (D-at large) and Curtis Jones Jr. (D-4th dist.) and Coun­cil­wo­man Maria Quinones Sanc­hez (D-7th dist.), ac­cord­ing to a news re­lease from Green’s of­fice. It was in­tro­duced to the full coun­cil last week with the back­ing of eight oth­er mem­bers and aims to give res­id­ent homeown­ers con­sist­ent and un­der­stand­able in­form­a­tion about pay­ment plans.

“We don’t want any­one that wants to pay and is try­ing to pay to lose their home,” Green stated.

That’s the friendly, in­cent­ive part of the meas­ure. The firmer, cough-up-the-cash-or-else part of the bill is a pro­vi­sion that own­ers who haven’t paid up or signed up for pay­ment plans by Dec. 31 will see the city fore­close on their prop­er­ties.

“For those who con­tin­ue to pre­tend pay­ing their prop­erty taxes is not a re­quire­ment in Phil­adelphia, in­clud­ing ab­sent­ee land­lords, fore­clos­ure due to de­lin­quency is an ap­pro­pri­ate tool once oth­er op­tions have been ex­hausted,” Green stated.

If the bill is passed and signed by the may­or, the city’s Rev­en­ue De­part­ment will start send­ing out no­tices to the people who haven’t paid up their 2013 prop­erty taxes by the March 31 dead­line. 

Those no­tices will have plenty of in­form­a­tion about what pay­ment plans are avail­able and who can take ad­vant­age of them.

And who may not.

Bill 120054 makes the city’s Rev­en­ue De­part­ment a friendly bill col­lect­or only for Phil­adelphi­ans who live in their homes, have no big code beefs and want to start pay­ing off what they owe. Those who don’t live in prop­er­ties with past-due ac­counts or are own­ers with bad repu­ta­tions be­cause of code vi­ol­a­tions aren’t go­ing to be eli­gible for pay­ment agree­ments. 

Cur­rently, people who want to get onto a pro­gram to pay their back taxes run in­to prob­lems with in­con­sist­ent in­form­a­tion, Quinones Sanc­hez said. Some simply don’t know there are pay­ment plans. 

“For too long, pay­ment plan op­tions for tax­pay­ers have been treated as ef­fect­ively secret, and of­ten are only avail­able for those who know to ask for them,” she stated in a news re­lease. “This bill cre­ates a clear, con­sist­ent sys­tem for in­form­ing tax­pay­ers of their op­tions and rights, and will in­crease fair­ness and ef­fi­ciency in tax col­lec­tions.”

There is some con­fu­sion now. The same de­lin­quent tax­pay­er eli­gible for a “fin­an­cial hard­ship agree­ment” reached with the city’s out­side col­lec­tions firms might not be eli­gible for an agree­ment with the Rev­en­ue De­part­ment. 

Un­der the pro­posed meas­ure, homeown­ers with in­comes 70 per­cent or less of the Area Me­di­an In­come — $81,500 — auto­mat­ic­ally would be eli­gible for pay­ment plans that would be based on 5 per­cent to 10 per­cent of their monthly in­comes. Those eli­gible de­lin­quent tax­pay­ers who ful­fill their agree­ments will be fur­ther eli­gible for re­duc­tions in the in­terest and pen­al­ties when they have paid off the prin­cip­al of what they owe.

The bill provides for the Rev­en­ue De­part­ment to have dis­cre­tion, based on fin­an­cial hard­ship, in work­ing out agree­ments with de­lin­quent tax­pay­ers whose in­comes are high­er than 70 per­cent of the AMI. It also will be at Rev­en­ue’s dis­cre­tion to work out plans with those who don’t live in their prop­er­ties.

To qual­i­fy for any plans, prop­erty own­ers will have to be paid up on their cur­rent taxes. In oth­er words, you gotta pay to pay.

“This is not an am­nesty plan or in­fin­ite-pay­ment plan,” Green stated. It helps people stay in their homes and tells those who just won’t pay their taxes when the city will fore­close.

Green’s news re­lease cites a re­port pre­pared by The Phil­adelphia In­quirer and Plan Philly that a typ­ic­al de­lin­quent tax­pay­er is 6.5 years be­hind and owes more than $4,200. The re­port found more than 26,000 prop­er­ties have been de­lin­quent for a dec­ade or more, and 8,500 of those have un­paid real es­tate taxes go­ing back 20 years or more.

That so many owe so much while so many oth­ers are du­ti­fully pay­ing has promp­ted no end of grip­ing by pub­lic of­fi­cials and private cit­izens.

“It really gnaws at people,” City Coun­cil­man Bri­an O’Neill said in Janu­ary.

The bill was co-sponsored by Bobby Hen­on (D-6th dist.), Bri­an O’Neill (R-10th dist.), Mark Squilla (D-1st dist.), Jan­nie Black­well (D-3rd dist.), W. Wilson Goode Jr. (D-at large), Den­nis O’Bri­en (R-at large), Mari­an Tasco (D-9th dist.) and Dav­id Oh (R-at large.).

Re­port­er John Loftus can reached at 215-354-3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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