Oops! City Missed $24 Million in Cell Phone Antenna Taxes

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The City Department of Finance didn't collect an estimated $24 million in cell phone antenna-related taxes because it didn't ID all the people collecting cash from antennas, Comptroller John Liu announced today.

Yes, you read that correctly: because the Department of Finance didn't look at Department of Buildings data indicating structures with antennas -- which, under law, must be taxed -- Finance overlooked 2000 taxable property owners.

Under City law, people who own commercial property or big apartment buildings have to tell the DOF whether they're making money from antennas. That's because any such profits make these properties more valuable, affecting how much they should be taxed.

The audit, which was a collaboration between Liu and State Comptroller Thomas P. Di Napoli, claims that at least 2,108 properties failed to claim income from 2008 to 2009.

Finance, on the other hand, only identified 90 offending properties.

Broken down by borough, Brooklyn had the most offenders (602 properties, or $5.8 million in missed tax revenue), followed by Manhattan (594 properties, or $9.8 million). Queens had 489 problematic properties ($4.7 million), and the Bronx had 363 ($3.5 million). Staten Island had the least: 60 properties for $500,000 in missed tax revenue.

We called and e-mailed the DOF to see how it missed this -- after all, an estimated $24 million is no small chunk of change. We're still waiting to hear back.

In the Department's official response, referenced in Liu's report, Finance promised to do more to find unreported income. The DOF also did agree that it missed taxes, but far less than the Comptroller claims: The Department said it missed $10.5 million in taxes involving 843 properties, not the estimated $24 million.

Some interesting facts?

Apparently, when cell carriers lease space from a building owner -- to install an antenna -- they pay properties north of 125th Street and in the outer boroughs about 2,000 bucks per month. South of 125th Street, that number doubles to $4,000 a month.

Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.

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