By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — With the cash-starved Philadelphia school system in mind, City Council today approved a bill that lawmakers hope will prod the Nutter administration into selling tax liens to private collection agencies.

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The sponsor of the measure, Councilman Bill Green, says selling tax liens on foreclosed properties would bring millions to the school district that the city otherwise would never see.

“The Pew study over the summer said that could raise $150 million,” Green noted.  “Fifty-five percent of that would go to the schools, and it’s sorely needed at the moment.”

The full Council approved the bill, 15-2.  One of the “no” votes came from Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who fears that collection agencies will take away homes from those in tough situations.

“Liens are very dangerous issues,” she said today.  “And if you’re not sure you can protect everybody you can, people can lose their properties and not be able to sustain themselves.”

But Green argues that the mayor already has the ability to sell tax liens,  and that this measure gives new protections to homeowners who owe property taxes.

“The consumer protections in the bill benefit consumers and put them in a better position after this bill passes than they are in today,” Green said.

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Those protections include limits on legal fees that can be imposed on the homeowners, and a longer period of time for the owners to pay off their arrears.

Blackwell, though, is skeptical.

“I’m not so sure it goes far enough to help those at the bottom rung of the ladder, the unemployed, the poor, those who are in trouble, those who are very low income,” she said.

Green counters that with the crisis facing the Philadelphia school district — which gets 55 percent of property tax revenue — every tool available should be used to boost tax collections.

“We need certainty of action for property owners, to change the culture of non-payment in this city.  And that culture change can result in a 60- to 80-million-dollar increase in our annual take on real estate taxes,” he said.

The measure now goes to the mayor.


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