2001 Public/Private Partnership Awards

MAYOR RONALD KIRK, CITY OF DALLAS

AWARD OF EXCELLENCE

LINEBARGER HEARD GOGGAN BLAIR GRAHAM PEÑA & SAMPSON, LLP
PRIVATIZATION OF DELINQUENT TAX COLLECTIONS

In 1983 the City of Dallas took a bold step to increase its delinquent property tax collections by privatizing this operation. The City, who also collects for the Dallas Independent School District, awarded a contract to the law firm of Linebarger Heard Goggan Blair Graham Peña & Sampson, LLP and set the stage for a very strong and highly successful public-private partnership. The initial results were dramatic and praised by the local media as an “unprecedented crackdown…theoretically approaching the threshold of all that is collectible.” (Dallas Morning News, September 11, 1983).  During Linebarger’s first year, collections jumped to $26.1 million or 250% more than the $10.1 million collected in 1982.

The 17-year partnership between the City and Linebarger has been mutually beneficial. The City and Dallas ISD schools have received over $486 million in delinquent property taxes during this period, averaging $28,900,000 annually. The collection program is contingency-based and supported by the delinquent taxpayers. In essence, the City gains a comprehensive collection staff, including legal services, and the most advanced collection systems available, while the delinquent taxpayer, who incurs the cost of collection, pays for it.

Linebarger’s primary job is assuring the City of Dallas has a steady stream of tax revenue, but the partnership goes beyond collections.  One of Linebarger’s first tasks was to assist the City in consolidating its tax bills, allowing taxpayers to receive a single statement for the full amount of taxes they owed for all delinquent years. Today, Linebarger’s office is online with the Tax Office, allowing them to access City tax records and respond to taxpayer inquiries directly, freeing up City of Dallas Tax Office employees for other taxpayer services.

The partnership continues to launch new initiatives as needs change. Working with City Attorney, Revenue and Taxation, Housing, Property Management, and Code Enforcement staff, Linebarger helped develop a program to address a growing problem with property code enforcement and affordable housing initiatives. Three years ago, Linebarger dedicated a team to assist the City in targeting properties through the foreclosure process for non-profit organizations. In addition, thousands of properties with code enforcement violations have been targeted for foreclosure, with the goal of placing these properties in the hands of owners who will keep the properties maintained and the taxes paid.

While monies owed to the City are aggressively collected, the partnership has never forgotten the human element in this business. Using the City’s payment guidelines, Linebarger helps taxpayers resolve their delinquent accounts, including those facing special problems such as financial hardship, disability or age. The partnership strives to educate taxpayers about their responsibilities. As a result of joint media campaigns, the public’s perception is that the partnership is serious about collecting, which has encouraged many delinquent taxpayers to pay future tax bills on time.

The partnership’s success is good for the Dallas economy. While Linebarger is a national law firm, it is their policy to hire and buy locally. They also strongly support minority and women business enterprises, and are committed to providing ownership and career opportunities for minorities and women within the firm.

The partnership’s efforts have had a positive financial impact on the City of Dallas. Today, Dallas enjoys one of the highest current tax collection rates of any major city in Texas: 98.3 percent. The Budget Office can make reliable revenue forecasts based upon the partnership’s consistent collection performance.  Moreover, the additional tax revenue collected allows the City of Dallas to implement plans for services and facilities that benefit the population as a whole without raising taxes.