What’s wrong with this picture? Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn wants an additional $350,000 for code enforcement operations at the same time the city might be owed as much as $450,000 in unpaid fees on foreclosed properties.
Tampa City Council members are correct to demand answers about the delinquent fees and should withhold the additional funding until their concerns are addressed.
The fees are levied against the owners of foreclosed properties to help the city monitor vacant homes and businesses that might fall into disrepair. An audit found the city has collected about $400,000 in foreclosure registry fees this year, but has failed to collect from the owners of about 2,000 properties, amounting to $450,000 in uncollected fees.
Buckhorn defends his administrators, saying the city cannot force property owners to join the registry, and that the owners in arrears are often out-of-state banks that will never pay. The city code enforcement attorney disputes the audit’s findings, saying the registry’s voluntary nature makes it difficult to know how much the city is owed.
We’re not sure what’s worse: allowing nearly half-a-million dollars in delinquent accounts to go uncollected, as city auditors contend, or failing to fix a system that leaves the city uncertain about how much it might be owed by deadbeat owners.
According to the audit, the city’s attempts to collect unpaid fees involve nothing more than sending delinquency notices.
It’s hard to imagine a private business being so cavalier about pursuing nearly half-a-million dollars it might be owed.
The city needs to do better.