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New bills aim to revamp property tax collection in Philadelphia

Legislation has been drafted to makeover Pennsylvania's collection laws for property tax delinquency. The real estate bill's author, state Rep. Chris Ross (R., Chester), wants to streamline the way municipalities throughout Pennsylvania handle tax-challenged property owners.

Ross's idea is favored by those who think Philadelphia needs to step up efforts to get the taxes that are owed to the city and school districts. More than 110,000 properties in the city are behind on a total of $472 million in taxes.

The legislative proposal sees a link between tax delinquency and neighborhood blight and addresses the effects of community erosion.

Developers hope Philadelphia officials open up more opportunities for them to buy and renovate properties that are currently owned by the city. Only 128 Philadelphia city properties were sent to sheriff's sale last year for back taxes. Developers say many properties are long abandoned and owners are nowhere to be found.

The president of the nonprofit government advisory group, the Center for Community Progress, says that the city sends the wrong message to people who do pay property taxes in full and on time. He stresses that lax tax collection hurts low-income communities most by preventing overall neighborhood improvement and punishing those taxpayers who live in them.

Another bill being put together by Rep. John Taylor (R., Philadelphia) would require Pennsylvania cities to foreclose on delinquent taxpayers within one year. The legislation aims to encourage the use of land banks and promotes clearing titles for new buyers. The legislation also includes hardship agreements for struggling property owners. It will be interesting to see how the city decides to deal with this growing problem.

Source: philly.com, "Tax debts thwart rebuilding," Patrick Kirkstra, Aug. 14, 2011

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