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Mayor: No property tax program audit needed

A dispute over the procedures and accuracy of tax collections in the city broke wide open at City Hall on Monday.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called a news conference to endorse recent reforms made by the Department of Finance to tighten procedures for collecting taxes. She abruptly left the room after reading a statement and did not take questions, leaving that duty to a flustered Harry Black, the city’s finance director, who acknowledged that “too many hands actually had touched the process” of tax collection calculations in the past.

Black blamed past errors on “inadequate interagency coordination,” including human error, as manual tax calculations in the finance department and from state officials led to errors that in a few cases totaled more than $700,000 from three commercial properties, according to a report in The Sun last month.

Rawlings-Blake’s remarks were made hours before two resolutions were set to be introduced at the weekly City Council meeting that called for an audit of the city’s property tax collection system and the hiring of a private firm to help the city calculate and collect the monies due.

She said that a “billing integrity unit” established by the city’s finance department now controls the tax calculation function of city property tax bills — once done by the state. All tax credit accounts are now under review, she added, using automated protocols.

The mayor rejected the calls for an audit of the property tax collection programs, saying: “We should give the improvements put in place a chance to work first.”

City Comptroller Joan Pratt, whose office oversees city audits, attended the news conference and said: “What we want to see is that the citizens are being billed properly.”