Couldn’t Philadelphia do better at collecting delinquent taxes?

The city of Philadelphia is owed more than $541 million in delinquent property taxes, penalties, interest and other fees, according to records obtained by WHYY/NewsWorks and the Daily News.

If you think your property tax bill is going up under the Actual Value Initiative (AVI), then you may be wondering why the city hasn’t collected those back taxes.

You’re not alone.

Critics say the city should crack down on delinquents by auctioning off more properties at sheriff sales. They argue that not only are delinquent property owners cheating the city and school district out of needed revenue, but their properties are also often blighted and dangerous.

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Various city and state officials have promised to tackle the problem.

In February, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter renewed his vow to get tough on delinquents. He says the city is going to spend $40 million on new employees, technology upgrades and a call center aimed at collecting back taxes. He estimates that the effort could net $260 million in the next five to six years.  

Philadelphia’s City Council is taking action too. This year, a group of Council members introduced resolutions to study the delinquency problem. They’ve called the effort the “Taxpayer Fairness Initiative,” and launched the website   

State Rep. Cherelle Parker of Philadelphia also introduced a bill that would give the city greater power to collect back taxes. It would enable the city to place liens on properties throughout Pennsylvania, if they’re owned by delinquents in Philadelphia.  

However, it’s worth noting that, even if these efforts were successful, that would not guarantee the Mayor and City Council would lower the property tax rate.  

After all, the school district is broke, and the city has many unfunded pension obligations and other unmet needs. They might use revenue generated by cracking down on delinquents to ease their collective budget crunch.

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