If there is one thing that ticks Philadelphians off, it’s taxes, and if there’s something that makes them really see red, it’s that a lot of people seem to get away with not paying any.
But, according to the city controller’s office, more people are paying up and they’re paying up more than they did just four years ago.
More than $500 million more.
According to the city’s revenue commissioner, Philly’s been clamping down on the people who don’t pay and, in some cases, playing rough.
Business owners who don’t pay what they owe are being told they will be shut down if they don’t fork over the cash.
They get warnings, Revenue Commissioner Clarena Tolson said. An owner who owes is told the business’s commercial activity license will be revoked if he doesn’t fork over the cash. Since a business may not legally operate without a license, losing it pretty much means commercial death.
If an owner ignores that alert, he’ll get another notice in which the city says it will be there in two days to shut him down.
“And we do,” Tolson said.
Amazingly, some of those tax deadbeats find the money they owe — within hours, Tolson said. Many come in with $20,000 or more. One owner came in with a check for $40,000, Tolson said.
Tax deadbeats are gamblers, she said. “They roll the dice and play the odds,” she said, hoping the city never catches them.
When it comes to city finances, black ink is beautiful, and according to figures released July 31 by City Controller Alan Butkovitz, Philly collected $502 million more in taxes in the 2014 fiscal year than it did in 2010’s.
That’s an increase of 22 percent. Tax collection went up in almost every major tax category, Butkovitz reported.
Here’s the controller’s breakdown:
• Real estate tax collection: Up $138.1 million from $402.3 million in 2010 to $540.4 million in fiscal 2014. That’s a 34.4 percent increase.
• Business privilege taxes: Up 27.6 percent in 2014 over 2010, from $364.7 million to $465.3 million.
• Realty transfer taxes: Up 40.8 percent, from $119.2 million to $167.8 million.
• Sales taxes: Up 27.3 percent, from $207.1 million to $263.7 million.
• Wage and earnings and net profit taxes: Up 13.3 percent, from $1.13 billion to $1.28 billion.
If an owner doesn’t pay real estate taxes, his or her property may be sold by the sheriff. More properties have been going to sheriff sale and going sooner than they used to, Tolson said. Subsequently, she added, collections of delinquent taxes have gone up more than 30 percent.
Collections of taxes on unearned income also have increased, the commissioner said.
The city has had greater enforcement of its wage tax, too. Since the wage tax comes out of paychecks with all the other deductions, how does somebody dodge it? Well, not everybody works in the city, Tolson said. If a suburban employer doesn’t deduct the wage tax from a city resident’s pay, it is up to the wage earner to pay up on his or her own. So, since that doesn’t always happen, the city matches its files with state and federal databases to catch the wage tax dodgers, the commissioner said.
“We believe everyone has to pay their fair share,” she said. ••