At a sparsely-attended budget hearing in South Philadelphia Wednesday night, Council members heard public testimony from a handful of attendees, the majority of whom focused on complaints about inaccuracies and other problems with the citywide reassessment key to Mayor Nutter’s property tax reform, the Actual Value Initiative (AVI).
During the hearing, Council President Darrell L. Clarke said that Council’s vote several years ago to scrap the old property tax system, run by the independent Board of Revision of Taxes (BRT), and putting the task of assessing properties and hearing appeals into the hands of the administration had been “a mistake.”
Under AVI, Clarke said he was frustrated with the lack of information – a persistent constituent complaint – about how the property values were determined and how the accuracy of the reassessment was judged. He said after the hearing that he was pleased that a lawsuit had kept the task of hearing assessment appeals with the BRT.
Councilman Mark Squilla, who hosted the meeting at Penns Landing Caterers on South Columbus Boulevard in his district, said Council members have “hit the same wall some of you have hit trying to get some information.”
Squilla has proposed phasing in the changes in assessments over four years to help people adjust to big swings in tax bills and to give the city’s Office of Property Assessment more time to perfect the property values.
“I believe and I have faith in Council to come up with some solutions to do this … and make it as fair as possible,” he said.
In addressing one speaker’s concerns about municipal employees who have gone four years without a contract, Clarke also said that Council would be putting together a pension proposal that he hoped would bring the two sides together. Pension changes have been one of the weightiest issues at the bargaining table.
Clarke said he would get involved in contract negotiations after municipal union members disrupted Mayor Nutter’s budget address in Council chambers last month. Clarke would not provide any other details about the coming pension proposal.
“If there can be some consensus with that then I think that takes that issue off the table,” he said. “We’re going to figure out a way to move the ball along.”
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