Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Pittsburgh council considering billboard - Pittsburgh Post Gazette

For the second time in nine months, Pittsburgh City Council will consider enacting a tax on billboard revenues, a measure that supporters say could bring in $2 million to $4 million a year for new police cars and other important needs.

Council President Darlene Harris and Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak this morning introduced a bill that would impose a 10 percent tax on the purchase or rental of billboard space on any building or plot of land. The tax would be collected by the billboard company at the time the advertiser pays for the space.

"This is only the beginning of looking for areas where people don't pay their fair share," said Mrs. Harris, who also has formed a task force to determine whether nonprofit groups could be forced to pay real estate taxes or to make payments in lieu of taxes.

Mrs. Harris said the money could be used as a permanent funding source for police cars. Because of funding problems last year, the city purchased only 14 police cars, an unusually low number. This year, it purchased about 70 vehicles, including 43 marked and 10 unmarked cars, for the police bureau.

The bill comes less than a month after the city won a battle with Lamar Advertising over the legality of the city's new rules for electronic billboards.

Mrs. Harris said the tax is necessary because residents already are doing enough to support the financially strapped city while billboard companies pay little taxes for signs that generate millions of dollars.

Now, she said, the billboard companies pay no taxes on the signs themselves and minimal real estate taxes on the plots holding the signs. The city budget office provided a chart indicating that billboard companies pay as little as $5.40 a year in city property taxes for parcels on which billboards sit.

Mrs. Harris said the bill is modeled on one in Philadelphia. Philadelphia's tax brought in $2.4 million over the past year, Mark McDonald, spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter, said in an email.

Then-Councilman Doug Shields introduced legislation for a billboard tax in December, but he and his colleagues ultimately killed the bill after failing to properly advertise it. Unable to reintroduce the bill last year because the legislative term was coming to an end, Mr. Shields called on his colleagues to revisit the issue this year.

When Mr. Shields introduced the legislation, Lamar attorney Jonathan Kamin said the company already pays $100,000 in property taxes each year, plus a $52 permit fee on each billboard it owns in the city.

Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.
First Published September 11, 2012 11:09 am

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