Candidates spar over AVI

City Controller Alan Butkovitz has not hid his desire to run for mayor in 2015. (File photograph)

The city’s new property tax assessments are becoming an issue in the city controller’s race, with incumbent Alan Butkovitz warning that upwards of 60 percent of Philadelphia homeowners are likely to face tax increases and challenger Brett Mandel accusing Butkovitz of “fear-mongering.”
“A lot of very poor areas of the city, places like Germantown and Juniata Park, are seeing big increases,” Butkovitz said Monday. “A lot of people in the city will be pushed out of their homes.”

Mandel said his family’s own taxes, on the southwest side of Center City, may come close to doubling, depending on rates and relief programs yet to be established by City Council.
“We’ve known since we bought the house that the city was under-taxing us, dramatically,” Mandel said. “We aren’t happy to pay more but we know that fairness matters, accuracy matters.…We need a system that assigns correct values to our real estate.”

Butkovitz accused Mandel of being “a shill for the business community,” estimating that the reassessment would lead to a $200 million reduction in commercial real estate taxes, while the tax burden would shift to residential homeowners.

If annual real estate taxes were set at 1.25 percent of the new market values, 60 percent of Philadelphia homeowners would see higher tax bills next year compared to what they’re paying now, Butkovitz said. If City Council establishes homestead exemptions or other relief programs to ease the impact on low-income citizens, it will drive the overall rates higher, meaning higher tax bills for up to 80 percent of residents, Butkovitz said.

Mandel suggested a system of tax deferrals that would not have to be paid off until people sell their homes. “Then nobody would be forced to do anything they don’t want to do,” he said.
 Mandel, 44, a former aide to controller Jonathan Saidel, Butkovitz’s predecessor, spoke after formally announcing his candidancy in front of Germantown High School, one of three dozen schools targeted for closure because of the School District’s ongoing budget crisis.

Butkovitz announced his candidacy last week in a function room at the Sheraton Hotel, filled with dozens of elected officials, Democratic ward leaders and labor leaders. Pat Gillespie, business manager for the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, acted as MC, with introductory remarks from state Sen. Michael Stack, City Council president Darrell Clarke and John Dougherty, business manager of the electrical workers union.

Mandel had 15 supporters – one identifying himself as a Democratic committeeman – standing in the cold outside Germantown High, holding light blue placards describing Mandel as a “budget bulldog.” His mother, Sharyn Dershowitz, handled the introduction.