Archive: February, 2013
Troy Graham @troyjgraham
For the second week in a row, Council members have introduced bills attempting to ameliorate the effects of Mayor Nutter’s property tax reform effort, the Actual Value Initiative (AVI).
Today, three Council members introduced measures – District Council members Mark Squilla and Maria Quinones Sanchez, both Democrats, and Brian O’Neill, a Republican.
Squilla’s bill would phase in over four years the changes in tax bills – both increases and decreases – that homeowners are facing from the citywide reassessment. Squilla repeatedly has raised concerns that the reassessment is full of inaccuracies.
The Office of Property Assessment has said the reassessment placed values on homes that are, on average, within 13.9 percent of market value, comfortably within industry standards. That margin, however, can mean big differences in tax bills, especially for higher priced homes.
John McDaniel, the former campaign manager for Blondell Reynolds Brown who recently plead guilty to stealing $103,000 from her campaign and from another political action committee, on Monday reached a settlement agreement with the Philadelphia Board of Ethics for mutliple violations of the city’s election finance laws.
McDaniel agreed to pay $12,450 over the ethics charges, but his fine will be waived if he is sent to federal prison for his guilty plea. His sentencing is scheduled for May 14.
The Ethics Board settlement says McDaniel contributed $4,600 to Blondell in 2011, $2,000 more than allowed. He made the contributions so that Brown’s campaign fund would have enough cash but did not inform the Councilwoman that his giving exceeded legal limits.
McDaniel also omitted key information and made misstatements about spending for the Progressive Agenda PAC, which he also managed. That PAC was established in 2004 to support his candidacy for City Council, the Ethics Board Setttlement said.
As the push to change Philadelphia’s property-tax assessments moves forward, City Council on Thursday introduced two bills on the subject, one that would provide tax relief to people who can’t afford to pay big hikes and another that would tax nonprofits on any properties used for commercial purposes.
The new system, known as the Actual Value Initiative, or AVI, aims to align assessed values with market values. Under AVI, some people will see their tax bills fall, while others will pay much more.
Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, whose district includes Graduate Hospital and other areas where tax bills are expected to soar in 2014, introduced a bill that would limit increases for households whose income does not exceed 160 percent of area median income.
People in that group could defer any increases greater than 2.5 times their previous tax bill until they sell the house or can afford to pay. Everyone would be required to pay at least $1,000.
Troy Graham @troyjgraham
State Rep. Rosita Youngblood said today that she wants to examine whether casino revenue now earmarked to reduce the city’s wage tax should be used instead to bring down taxes for homeowners under Mayor Nutter’s property tax reform effort.
Every county in the state other than Philadelphia uses casino funds – paid into the Property Tax Relief Fund – to reduce property taxes for homeowners. At the time casino gaming was legalized in Pennsylvania, Youngblood said, financial analysts said Philadelphia residents paid less in property taxes and more in wage taxes than most state residents – and city residents would be better served with a reduction in wage taxes.
Youngblood, a Philadelphia Democrat, said the formula needs to be examined again with the implementation of Nutter’s Actual Value Initiative (AVI), which is meant to base taxes on the market value of properties, correcting decades of bad assessments.
AVI, however, is going to reduce the tax bills for commercial properties and shift the tax burden more heavily on to residents. The administration says that more than two-thirds of homeowners will see a tax decrease or an increase of $400 or less, but some homeowners in changing and growing neighborhoods are facing large increases in their tax bills.
The city’s Board of Ethics decided Wednesday that foundations can fund projects at the request of city agencies without triggering the city’s lobbying ordinance, which would require them to register and make quarterly financial disclosures.
Mayor Nutter had asked for the ruling last week, after the William Penn Foundation informed the city that it was suspending new grants to city agencies until the issue was clarified.
Nutter had cited two typical grant proposals -- a request to the William Penn Foundation to help fund design work for a new trail on the west side of the Schuylkill, and potential applications to the Bloomberg Philanthropy’s Mayors Challenge, which helps finance creative solutions to urban problems.
“Neither of these examples constitutes an attempt to influence administrative or legislative action,” Nutter said in a letter to the Ethics Board.
Troy Graham @troyjgraham
Mayor Nutter plans to give his budget address on March 14.
With the recent unveiling of the numbers from a citywide reassessment and with unresolved labor contracts for three of the four major municipal unions, the speech could be the most interesting and raucous in years.
Last year, city workers packed the upper galleries in Council chambers, repeatedly shouting, heckling and interrupting the mayor during his address.
Nutter’s relationship with the unions hasn’t gotten much better since – the mayor recently moved to impose contract terms on the city’s blue collar union, AFSCME District Council 33, and he is fighting an arbitration award to the firefighters. Contract negotiations with the white collar union, District Council 47, remain unresolved as well.
Lawyers representing close to a million Pennsylvania workers – including virtually all unionized government employees in the state, from sanitation workers to teachers -- have joined AFSCME District 33, Philadelphia’s largest municipal union, fighting the Nutter administration’s bid to impose contract terms after a four-year standoff.
In filings Tuesday with the state Supreme Court, the unions said it was premature for the court to take jurisdiction in the case.
The city filed suit Feb. 1 in Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court, seeking permission to impose its most recent offer on some 6,800 city workers. The package includes reduced pensions for new employees, the right to furlough employees up to three weeks a year and new work rules to cut overtime, coupled with pay raises of 4.5 percent over the next two years.
The following week, the city asked the Supreme Court to take jurisdiction in the case, saying the issues were too urgent to wait for a decision from a Philadelphia judge, likely followed by appeals.
The Committee of Seventy has found a way to make sure this year’s city budget debate gets off to a lively start. The voter watchdog group is recommending that City Council “focus on the complicated and contentious issues surrounding property assessments and real estate taxes at the start of its annual hearings on the city’s budget.”
In a news release, Seventy’s President and CEO Zack Stalberg, argued that getting answers on the initiative early would help keep AVI questions from creeping into spending discussions with city department heads over several weeks of public budget hearings, which normally begin in late March.
“Taxpayers need to know how much revenue new property taxes will bring in, what their share will be and which measures Council has in mind to ease their pain,” Stalberg said. “Spreading out the debate over the six or seven weeks of budget hearings will only intensify their confusion and fears.”
Click here for Philly.com's politics page.
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.
Mayor Nutter will pay $460 less in yearly taxes if his Actual Value Initiative moves forward with a 1.25 percent rate. He says he will donate that figure to city schools.
In addition to his own new assessment, Nutter released the new property valuations (PDF) and tax bills for his executive team. While many face only small increases, others are not so lucky.
Angela Dowd-Burton, executive director of Philadelphia’s Office of Economic Opportunity, faces the steepest jump – an additional $5,540 yearly.
City Finance Director Rob Dubow, on the other hand, saves money. His 2014 assessment, if AVI passes, will lower his tax bill by $2,710.