Land Bank properties shouldn’t accrue stormwater fees

When the legislation enabling the Philadelphia Land Bank was crafted a few years ago lawmakers apparently forgot an important detail: not charging stormwater fees on the properties held by the Lank Bank.

The Land Bank crafted by Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez is meant to, among other things, obtain tax delinquent properties in the city. Three quarters of the 32,000 vacant properties in the city are privately held and they are often too debt burdened to be profitably developed. The Land Bank is meant to obtain these delinquent properties scrub them of debt, clear the title, and get them back on the market.  It is also meant to direct these properties towards uses that will be in the long-term interest of the city.

This Thursday a bill was put forward on behalf of Council President Darrell Clarke to amend the legislation to exempt properties held by the bank from stormwater fees in addition to real estate taxes, water, sewer, and other municipal charges already covered by the law. 

In a press release Clarke’s press representative, Jane Roh, said that it “corrects a technical oversight in Land Bank legislation.”

That the properties were ever subject to stormwater fees while under the Land Bank’s purview was the fault of a drafting error missed by both the Nutter administration and the interested council officers during the crafting of the legislation in 2013.

If land bank properties are not exempted from  taxes and fees, the burden could increase incentives to get rid of properties quickly, even if the uses weren’t in the city’s long-term interests.  

“Given that a land bank may have to hold properties for some time before they can be reused (if ever), failing to exempt them from property taxes [or fees] puts a huge burden on the land bank,” says Alan Mallach, a senior fellow at the Center for Community Progress and an expert on land banks. “It is not only normal, but all but universal, to exempt properties being held by land banks from property taxes and the like.”

*An earlier version of this article misstated which fees were covered by the exeemption. PlanPhilly regrets the error. 

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