August 16, 2011 10:09 Age: 3 yrs

Inefficient Delinquent Property Tax Collection Costs Philadelphia $472 Million

Among America’s major cities, Philadelphia has the worst overall enforcement record of collecting delinquent property taxes — an “astronomical” rate, according to Emory Law Professor Frank S. Alexander.

An investigation and article published in The Philadelphia Inquirer Aug. 13 found the city has failed to collect $472 million in unpaid taxes, penalties and interest. That’s because nearly one in five properties, or 19.2 percent, of the city’s parcels are considered delinquent.

The article quoted Alexander as an expert authority on improving property tax collection.

"That's an astronomical level of delinquency,” Alexander said. “It is phenomenally high. Those numbers tell you there is a very high rate of nonenforcement. It means that the city has made a decision not to go after these properties."

Beyond an increase in default due to the recession, inconsistent enforcement contributes to “a culture of nonpayment,” according to the article. Often, single big-ticket delinquent properties are targeted for tax foreclosure, while property owners in the city’s worst districts are rarely pursued. Thus, redevelopment in low-income areas that need it most becomes difficult or impossible.

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