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New Tax System to Take Pittsburgh "Out of the Dark Ages"

Users will be able to pay both individual property and business taxes online for the first time.

Pittsburgh is working to enhance both its business and property tax systems with internal improvements as well as a new public-facing platform that will allow users to pay both online for the first time.

According to Ed Barca, Pittsburgh’s assistant director of finance, the city is working with Avenu Insights and Analytics to modernize a wide range of processes, including how payments are recorded, account maintenance and functionality related to how businesses ensure they are properly registered with the city. Currently, the city is hoping to launch the business functionality in mid-2019, with the property tax platform to follow in mid-2020.

“Both systems that we have right now are legacy systems within the city of Pittsburgh,” Barca said. “They’re roughly 15 to 20 years old, and they need to be replaced soon. We’ve also listened to the residents and businesses in Pittsburgh, and the biggest benefit this new system is going to offer is an online portal.”

There’s still an option for paying by paper, of course, but the new portal will add a host of digital options. In the past, there was no mechanism for businesses to pay online, and property owners could simply pay their taxes, not request various information or enjoy any other sort of more nuanced functionality.

Once this work is completed, Pittsburgh expects that the new portal will allow users to file taxes, make payments, ask questions via a chat component, access tax info and receive information about their current tax status.

“It’s really taking the city out of the dark ages,” Barca said.

This overhaul of Pittsburgh’s tax system speaks to an ongoing trend among municipal governments nationwide, wherein cities improve outward functionality in a way that mirrors that of big private companies like Amazon or Apple. At the same time, they create inward-facing processing components that help residents get information faster and save public servants time spent on handling paperwork and other related responsibilities. Barca said those sort of improvements will save the city money.

Patrick Scott, senior vice president of east operations at Avenu, said this is one of the prime benefits of his company’s cloud-based work for Pittsburgh. To maximize the benefit of the work, Avenu and other developers on the project have met extensively with different teams internally at the city.

“It also frees up the limited time municipal governments have today to work on higher value, more important stuff for the city than processing and administering tax returns,” Scott said. “If you can do that really efficiently online and self-empower your residents and businesses to do that themselves quickly and efficiently, you can get the greatest value out of your resources as a local government.”

Pittsburgh is far from the only city that is working to add comprehensive digital payment and processing options to its tax system. In fact, in recent months a new tax platform helped San Francisco residents file and the city process an unprecedented number of tax filings for 2017.


Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.