Bass calls for council hearings on vacant, tax-delinquent properties as part of group effort

At Thursday’s City Council meeting, the legislative body’s six newest members introduced a half dozen resolutions calling for a series of public hearings into the unpaid-taxes scourge as they formally launched a group “Taxpayer Fairness Initiative” effort.

Calling themselves the “Serious Six,” Council Members Cindy Bass, Bobby Henon, Kenyatta Johnson, Dennis O’Brien, David Oh and Mark Squilla are setting out to investigate real-estate tax deliquency in the city, procure data to that end, delve into Mayor Michael Nutter’s latest tax-collection initiative and host a half dozen meetings on different related topics.

Bass, who represents the Eighth District in Northwest Philadelphia, will focus on delinquent vacant properties (PDF).

Other topics include “understanding real estate tax deliquency” (O’Brien), delinquent commercial property (Squilla), delinquent residential investment property (Johnson), delinquent owner-occupied property (Henon) and “understanding national best practices, next steps” (Oh).

The crux of their argument, for which there is already a website, is that uncollected taxes decrease funds available for public safety, education, the city’s general fund and other areas of need.

They said they’ve all heard from constituents concerned about the issue.

“We’ve heard the cries for action,” the group’s two-sheet said. “Everyone should pay. Philadelphia should collect what we are owed. It’s only fair.”

Bass spokesman Joseph Corrigan estimated that there is about $80 million in delinquent real-estate taxes spread across an Eighth District where blight fight is a constant point of discussion.

“There’s no place in the city that isn’t affected by this, but it’s clearly a significant problem in the Eighth District,” she said, alluding to the fact that the $80 million figure is double that of any other council district. “There are a lot of questions [about collection deficiencies] and hopefully we’ll discover the answers.”

The public-meeting schedule will be available on the Taxpayer Fairness Initiative’s website, www.taxpayerfairness.com.

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