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Long-Anticipated Tax Delinquency Bill Passes

Council passed a bill Thursday that sets up a "clear, consistent" payment plan for poor homeowners who can't afford their taxes, while moving more quickly to take properties from speculators and delinquent landlords.

The bill was conceived five years ago as part of a plan by then-freshman Council members Bill Green, Curtis Jones Jr. and Maria Quiñones Sánchez to save or generate $50 million a year for the city.

It was first introduced last year in response to an Inquirer/PlanPhilly investigation into the city's poor record on property tax collections, and was the subject of eight months of negotiations between the sponsors and the administration.

"What we do is allow people who are truly in need to be able to set up a payment plan that is a perecentage of their income," Green said. "People who are scofflaws … people who are just sitting on properties and not paying their taxes, there will be sure, quick consequences for them of foreclosure within one year."

Passage of the bill, by a 16-0 vote, comes amidst an intense debate, sparked by Mayor Nutter's overhaul of the property tax system, about collecting delinquent taxes. Green said he expects the bill to result in the city collecting more of taxes owed.

Inquirer and PlanPhilly reports in 2011 and 2013 revealed that Philadelphia has one of the poorest collection records of any big city in the nation, and that 59 percent of the city's nearly 100,000 delinquents are speculators and landlords, not owner occupants. In all, the city and School District of Philadelphia are owed $515 million in delinquent property taxes, penalties and interest.

The bill also would allow foreclosed properties to go into a land bank, which could set standards for moving vacant and tax delinquent properties back to productive, tax-paying use.

For the past five years, Sánchez has been the prime sponsor and champion of legislation to establish a land bank, but Council won't take up her bill before the summer recess on June 20.

"All the studies show us that a vacant property on the block devalues the entire block," Sánchez said. "We want to send a message to speculators … that speculation will no longer be allowed in the city of Philadelphia."

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