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 firstname.lastname@example.org