Philly’s first collections chief may face tough road ahead
Mayor Michael Nutter on Wednesday appointed the city’s first chief revenue collections officer, and given the budget challenges being debated by the City Council, he may face some challenges of his own.
Thomas Knudsen is charged with cracking down on deadbeats who owe the city money, primarily in non-tax revenue like EMS and trash collection fees, according to Finance Director Rob Dubow.
The appointment was announced as part of an ongoing push by the administration to ferret out stashes of unclaimed cash in the face of budgetary challenges.
“Ultimately, our goal is to collect every dime that is owed the city of Philadelphia,” Nutter said in a statement.
He said Knudsen is up to the task – the CEO of Philadelphia Gas Works for 11 years, Knudsen oversaw a turnaround of the once troubled utilities agency.
Knudsen most recently served a six-month stint as chief financial recovery officer for the School District of Philadelphia, where he helped introduce an austere cost-cutting plan that stirred controversy.
That budget struggle is ongoing, as the school district’s $242 million deficit continues to balloon and the City Council is again debating how to staunch the bleeding. Council members last week received an eleventh-hour request from the School Reform Commission for an additional $60 million in funding for fiscal year 2013.
The administration supports the request, but the mayor’s proposed budget doesn’t identify any possible sources of the money.
Councilman Mark Squilla at a budget hearing Wednesday said the administration’s collections effort “seems like lip service” because their proposed five-year plan doesn’t anticipate any increased revenue from the reforms.
“I just don’t see the commitment to having any accountability on collections,” he said. “To me, if you have a goal there’s more of an incentive for the department to go out and get that money.”
Dubow countered that the city is being cautious, and gains from the resources invested in the initiative are likely to be made slowly over time.
As far as the school district’s funding request, he said the administration does not at this time have any suggestions about where that money may be found.