IN THE OCT. 24, 1980, District of Columbia Register there was public notice. It informed city residents that the Office of License and Permits would not be able to issue new licenses for five professions, such as undertakers, for example, and certifield public accountants. Why not? Because, city officials say, they are unable to bill people properly for the new licenses. And why can't they bill them right? Computer problems, comes the reply. No one knows exactly how much money is being lost because of this foul-up. But however much it is, the sume must be added to other money lost to the city treasury during the past year because of similar troubles in collecting property taxes and water bills.
The property tax situation came to light when some well-known people were listed as delimquent taxpayers not long ago -- apparently incorrectly. What is the trouble here? According to a report in this newspaper, tax officers at several financial institutions say they have not even received bills for taxes due last March or last September, and that is why they have not paid them. Also, checks used to pay taxes are sometimes not cashed for long periods of time.
This unnecessary loss of revenues comes at a time when the city is in a budget crisis. The accumulated deficit is said to be somewhere in the hundreds of millions. Part of that deficit is a result of the way Congress handled city accounts and of past city administrations' hiding the shortage of money. But now we have the additinal problem of failure to collect money owed. The need for news taxes, as recently argued by city council Finance Committee Chairman John Wilson, and requests for federal assistance by Mayor Barry and Del. Walter Fauntroy become the objects of mocking laughter when residents and Congress realize that the city can't even collect money that is already available to it. r
The fiance department claims that a new computer will correct many of the problems. But workers in the department say they face an impossible task because they do not have good data to feed into the computers to form the basis for the proper handling of future bills. This parallels the water department's problem -- for at least the past five years -- of being unable for some reason to collect bills. Making the water and property tax collections on time, complete with proper billings, as well as fixing the billing system for license fees must be a first priority of the city government. Without that piece in place -- unless the city is doing all it can to help itself get money -- it will be hard to make a convincing argument that others should help the city.