Philly tax collection doing better but still struggles to catch up with deadbeats

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City Council is reviewing why Philadelphia doesn’t collect all the taxes it’s owed.

Council members are taking an even closer look at taxes that could help the the struggling public schools.

A report from the Pew Trust’s Philadelphia Research Initiative says the city and  school district are owed more than a half billion dollars in delinquent taxes when interest and penalties are factored in but only about 30 percent of it is collectable for one reason or another.

Kevin Gillen of the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute says just bring up collections to national norms would mean significant money.

“We found that every percentage point that Philadelphia could reduce it’s delinquency rate by would result in an average increase in annual revenues of $13 million per year,” Gillen said. “If Philadelphia’s delinquency rate could be lowered to be the same as the U.S. average for all large cities, Philadelphia would collect an additional $65 million per year.”

City Revenue Commissioner Clarena Tolson says her staff is using newly-granted state powers to go after deadbeats from outside the city who own property here.

“Our first tactic is looking at folks who have a mailing address outside the city of Philadelphia and they will be the first that we will be addressing in terms of identifying their properties,” Tolson said.  That law allows the city to put liens against properties in the suburbs to settle delinquent tax bills owners have run up on buildings and land in Philadelphia.

Tolson says in the past year, collections from a levy on unearned income by city residents and the Liquor by the Drink Tax are both up by more than 200 percent.

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