It's Only Fair.

Most Philadelphia residents do the responsible thing: they pay their taxes or ask for help when they can't.  But there are thousands of people who choose not to pay and they get away with it.  And that is just not fair.

About the Initiative

It’s Only Fair!

When we took office in January of 2012, we immediately started hearing from constituents that our real estate tax collections system is unfair.  Why do some people pay their fair share of real estate taxes and others don’t?  Why do so many people get away with not paying for years?  Why are residents being asked to pay more when others never have to pay at all?

As City Council deliberated about the Mayor’s Actual Value Initiative (AVI) – which will change the way that real estate taxes are calculated – our constituent’s frustration grew. 

Real estate taxes really matter.  The revenues generated from real estate taxes support our schools, our teachers, our firefighters, our police officers, and our museums.  Some of our favorite programs, like the Community Life Improvement Program (CLIP) and the Mural Arts Program, are supported by general fund revenues.  Those revenues are only there if everyone pays their fair share. 

We’ve heard the cries for action.  Everyone should pay.  Philadelphia should collect what we are owed.   It’s only fair.  

That’s why, on Thursday, February 7, 2013, we (Councilmembers Bass, Henon, Johnson, Oh, O’Brien and Squilla) launched the Taxpayer Fairness Initiative to focus the collective efforts of the six newest members of City Council around the issue of real estate tax delinquency.  The Taxpayer Fairness Initiative is a partnership between our offices.  We’re going to combine our time, resources and energy to tackle what we believe to be one of the most serious problems facing Philadelphia today. 

Goals

The goals and objectives of this collaborative initiative are to:

Investigate the Problem.  Collectively we are going to focus attention on the issue of real estate tax delinquency.  For decades, Philadelphia’s leaders have let this problem grow and it’s just not fair.  We’ve dug ourselves into a hole and it’s time to focus on getting out of it.  We are going to shed light on the problem. Every resident of Philadelphia - from firefighters to schoolteachers to investment bankers to hotel workers – has the right to understand how real estate tax delinquency impacts our neighborhoods and the City as a whole.  And, everyone has the right to know how their leaders plan to get Philadelphia out of this mess.  It’s time to get to real and to get to the bottom of this problem.  It’s only fair!

On February 7th, we introduced resolutions that authorized the Committee of the Whole to hold a series of hearings on the issue of real estate tax delinquency.  Each hearing will cover broad topics or a specific category or type of delinquent account and will be broken down as follows:

  • Big Picture: Understanding Real Estate Tax Delinquency (Councilman O’Brien)
  • Delinquent Vacant Property (Councilwoman Bass)
  • Delinquent Commercial Property (Councilman Squilla)
  • Delinquent Residential Investment Property (Councilman Johnson)
  • Delinquent Owner-Occupied Property (Councilman Henon)
  • Best Practices: Understanding National Best Practices, Next Steps (Councilman Oh)

The purpose of these hearings is to ensure that we, as members of Council, have access to relevant data and information about real estate tax delinquency; have an in-depth understanding and knowledge of the processes and procedures used by the Administration and Sheriff’s Office to address delinquency both on an individual tax-payer level and on a city-wide level; have a forum to analyze and provide constructive feedback about this problem and the overall fairness of the relevant system and processes; and can adequately communicate accurate and balanced information back to the citizens we were elected to represent.  In addition, we are going to take an in-depth look at Mayor Nutter’s recently announced efforts to increase the collection delinquent taxes.

In addition to the public hearings, we will be hosting policy briefings on topics relating to real estate tax delinquency. 

Both the hearings and the policy briefings will be open to the public.  All of the related schedules, documents and information associated with this project will be made available online at www.taxpayerfairness.com.

Engage citizens.  With as many as 19,000 delinquent vacant properties, there are some incredible opportunities to transform communities one block at a time.  In each of the Council Districts represented (1st, 2nd, 6th and 8th), we’re going to host public community meetings.  We’ll bring in experts and let the community ask questions about how to take a delinquent vacant property to sale and to share their thoughts about how these parcels might best be used. 

Connect taxpayers to the help they need.  Everyone has an obligation to pay, but we all need a little help from time to time.  Our offices will work hard to be advocates for any taxpayer who needs help understanding the system and getting on a payment arrangement.  Not paying is NOT an option--it’s just not fair.  But assistance is available and our offices can help!