The Greatest Threat to the Pittsburgh Skyline Part 2: Out-of-State Corporation Makes Millions off of the City Skyline – Pays Less than $10 in Local Taxes
As a home or business owner in Pittsburgh, did you pay more than $10 in local taxes last year? If you did, than you paid more than Lamar Advertising did in the past four years for the 7,000 square foot billboard on top of Mt. Washington.
This year, Lamar Advertising will pay less than $10 in local taxes on one of the most visible, profitable and neglected properties in the city. The Mt. Washington billboard property, which sold for over $5 million in 1997, costs the billboard industry a pittance of what it costs to own a home or business in western Pennsylvania. This situation repeats itself for every billboard in the City of Pittsburgh. For example, even though the six billboards outside the Squirrel Hill tunnel, including the electronic billboard, earn Lamar Advertising approximately $300,000 per year, they pay less than $15 in taxes to the county.
Properties upon which billboards sit are taxed as vacant lots. So, despite the fact that billboards make use of public space, lower surrounding property values by as much as 30% and compromise your neighborhood’s health and vitality, they contribute almost nothing to the communities from which they extract their millions.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Much like the “rental tax” you pay to rent a vehicle or hotel room in Pittsburgh, municipalities have the right to tax the billboard industry for the rental of our public space. Many cities like Toronto, Miami and Philadelphia have enacted this type of legislation. In Philadelphia, the 7% tax on income earned by billboards has resulted in an additional $9.5 million in revenue for the city over four years.
Now Lamar Advertising is seeking to convert the Mt. Washington billboard into a corporate television: increasing its profitability, damaging the City’s viewsheds, and giving nothing back to the community in return.
No other citizen or business enjoys this privilege. Why should they?