Pittsburgh Comptroller’s Office releases audit in response to tax collection delays

An audit of the Pittsburgh Real Estate Division released Wednesday said the division should encourage ratepayers to make virtual payments, while the city council should think better about how new tax laws will be implemented.

The Pittsburgh City Comptroller’s Office audited the Treasury Department’s real estate division in response to long delays in collecting and processing taxes last year.

“With covid and the hiring freeze, new technology and the late passage of the parks tax at City Council, it was a ‘perfect storm’ scenario,” Comptroller Michael Lamb said. “There are lessons we can learn to prevent problems like this from happening again.”

City Council passed the parks tax on Dec. 28, 2020, and ordered the measure to take effect Jan. 1, 2021. When the measure passed, Lamb’s office said property tax bills had already been prepared. To comply with the new law and begin collecting the park tax, officials had to calculate, print, and mail an additional bill to each property owner in the city.

This doubled the workload of a short-staffed department and caused confusion among taxpayers, according to the Comptroller’s report.

“City council should consult with the enforcement department when making laws,” Lamb said. “In this case, the Ministry of Finance could have shed light on the potential problems and would probably have encouraged the Council to delay the implementation.”

The audit also said it was “high time” for the Department of Finance to encourage taxpayers to pay their bills online. Allegheny County already does this, and an online payment system would significantly reduce the workload for the city’s Department of Finance, according to the report. Because online payments would be deposited directly into a bank account, there would be no need to process checks, the audit said.

Julia Felton is editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact Julia at 724-226-7724, [email protected] or via Twitter .