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Council Balks at Oh's Plan For More Aggressive Approach to Tax Collections

By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- City Council today debated whether the City of Philadelphia should be more aggressive with tax deadbeats.

In the end, though, the lawmakers opted to retain a lighter touch.

Before City Council's Finance Committee was a proposal from councilman David Oh (right photo at top) requiring that any tax payment more than a year overdue automatically be turned over to a debt collector.

"We want to certainly collect the taxes from those who can pay and simply are not paying," he said.  "(The bill) simply requires that the city do it in a timely fashion, as opposed to taking no action for ten or fifteen years.  By doing it that way, it becomes predictable and stable."

But city revenue commissioner Clarena Tolson (left photo) testified that the Nutter administration opposes the idea.  She said they currently make decisions on a case-by-case basis whether and when to turn a past-due account over to a collection firm.

"You wouldn't put up for sheriff's sale somebody's property who is injured, who has extreme circumstances, or even a modest amount of debt," she told the lawmakers.  "You wouldn't want to sell a property that had $500 worth of delinquency on it.  You (the city) have to use some judgment in regards to how you want to manage the situation."

Tolson estimated that even under the current approach, fully two-thirds of delinquent tax accounts end up being handled eventually by a tax collection agency.

Several lawmakers on the committee were clearly uncomfortable with Oh's more aggressive approach.

"I don't want some collector calling my (constituent) seniors, harassing them, giving them heart attacks and high blood pressure," said councilwoman Marian Tasco.  "I'm not sure I want to see them on the street, not being able to stay in their homes.  That's my concern about this piece of legislation."

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(Councilwoman Marian Tasco. Image from City of Phila. TV)


Tasco said she prefers Tolson's flexible approach:  "She does it with compassion and she still collects the taxes."

In the face of this opposition from his colleagues, Oh opted to hold the bill from a committee vote, vowing to amend the legislation to meet some of their concerns.

Officials estimate that the city is owed roughly $477 million in taxes, going back a decade.  Tolson said her department collected more than $100 million in the past-due real estate taxes in the last fiscal year.

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