MAYOR NUTTER HAS talked a good game about cracking down on property-tax deadbeats. At a recent news conference, he said, "We're going to chase their little asses down as hard as possible!"
According to our analysis of records obtained through a right-to-know request, though, more than 1,700 tax delinquents are getting breaks on their local property taxes.
In some cases, the city has the power to revoke those tax goodies - but often doesn't.
This year, those delinquents are reaping $15.1 million in property-tax breaks, which include both abatements and nonprofit exemptions. At the same time, they are shorting the city on more than $8 million in back property taxes that they owe, city data show.
Under state law, the city has no power to remove a nonprofit's tax exemption if it fails to pay taxes that it does owe. The city classified 145 of the 1,700-plus delinquents as nonprofits.
This group of deadbeats also consists of people who enjoy an abatement on part of their property's value, while failing to pay up on the taxable parts. And the city has the power to yank a property-tax abatement if an owner doesn't pay.
So why doesn't it always?
Revenue Commissioner Keith Richardson said the city checks to make sure that a property owner is up to date on its taxes when it first applies for a local abatement. But after that, the city has no process in place to make sure they all continue to pay.
Richardson suggested that it was the Office of Property Assessment's job to initiate a formal process. That office reviews applications for property-tax breaks.
"That information is within OPA's website or their data," Richardson said. "If they want to send it to us, we'll be more than happy to check."
Over at the OPA, deputy administrator Michael Piper suggested that - you guessed it - it's the Revenue Department's job to implement a routine check.
"Delinquency issues are all generally revenue," he said, "unless it's something that we specifically ask them for."
The city has pulled local abatements from tax delinquents in the past, Richardson said, but he could not provide a specific example. Also, mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said the city checks annually to make sure that businesses getting tax breaks as part of the state's "Keystone Opportunity Zone" program are up to date.
Zack Stalberg, president of the government watchdog Committee of Seventy, said the city should make it a priority to go after money owed by property owners enjoying tax breaks.
"I think it's crazy that the city is not taking this seriously," he said. "There's real money at stake and a real opportunity to get some of these people to pay up."