BRT files suit against city, seeks to prevent the agency's abolition

Richard Negrin, interim executive director of the BRT, left, stands behind Mayor Nutter, right, after a moratorium was ordered on property assessments in January. (Michael Bryant / Staff Photographer)

Five members of the city's embattled Board of Revision of Taxes asked the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania yesterday to call off a public vote in May that could lead to the board's abolition.

The suit claims that the City of Philadelphia lacks the authority to strip the seven-member board of its power to hear appeals of property assessments, since that authority was granted to the board by the state legislature.

If the court grants the BRT's request, the board members might be able to keep their jobs - which pay $70,000 a year for part time work - in spite of Inquirer reports last year that documented widespread mismanagement at the agency.

The attorneys who filed the suit on the BRT's behalf declined to comment yesterday, saying the filing would speak for itself. City Solicitor Shelley Smith could not immediately be reached for comment.

In December, City Council approved an ordinance that put the BRT's fate in the hands of voters in May's Philadelphia primary election. With voter consent, the ordinance would abolish the agency, and split its functions into two pieces. One office, under the indirect control of the mayor, would set property values. A separate board, appointed by the mayor with council's consent, would hear appeals of those assessments.

The suit does not specifically challenge the city's power to seize control of property assessing from the BRT, only the city's right to take away assessing appeals power. But the filing could nonetheless derail the city's takeover of property assessments, if the state Supreme Court removes the BRT question from the May ballot.

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