Shuffle In Nutter's Team As Mayor Seeks More Revenue

FILE: Thomas Knudsen, the Philadelphia school district's chief recovery officer and former head of PGW, will now supervise the city's tax collections from late payers. (Sarah J. Glover / Staff Photographer)

Mayor Nutter this morning named Thomas Knudsen as his first revenue collection czar, a new position charged with “dramatically increasing” the collection of taxes, fees, fines and any other source of money due to the city.

Nutter also announced that Revenue Commissioner Keith J. Richardson, who previously was responsible for collecting the bulk of the city’s taxes, would be leaving for a post at the Philadelphia Housing Authority. Streets Commissioner Clarena I.W. Tolson will move to take over Richardson’s job.

Deputy Commissioner for Transportation David J. Perri will be acting Streets commissioner, Nutter said.

Knudsen, who will make $160,000, will have responsibility for taking a “global view” of revenue collections across all city agencies, Nutter said. While Revenue collects the lion's share of the city’s taxes, other city departments, such as Streets, Licenses and Inspections, police and fire, also bill for services and collect money through fees, fines and other mechanisms.

Knudsen has been a lauded manager of public institutions in crisis. His most vaunted accomplishment was turning the Philadelphia Gas Works from a money-losing mess into an efficient, profitable operation. He did his job so well that the city is now considering selling off the utility.

Knudsen, who spent more than 10 years at PGW, last held the title of chief recovery officer at the School District of Philadelphia, managing the district through its budget crisis until the new superintendent, William Hite, began work last fall.

“From my days at PGW I know high levels of collections from the citizens of this city are possible,” Knudsen said. “I know how critical that is.”

The collection of taxes has been a focus of Council and the mayor this year as the city moves to a new property tax system that promises to fix the badly broken and inequitable system now in place, but will shift the tax burden around the city in some painful ways. Large commercial properties, for example, are expecting their taxes to come down, while homeowners living in growing areas of the city are facing some eye-popping increases.

Although Nutter officials say the city collects more than 90 percent of property taxes, the administration has come under fire for not doing enough, especially with regards to delinquent payers, often speculators, who seem to avoid taxes on dilapidated properties with impunity.

Council has convened a number of hearings this year, asking how to wring out every tax dollar possible to keep down the property tax rate and minimize the hit on homeowners facing higher bills.

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