Two new AVI bills in Council

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.

“These residents did not create this system and we need to recognize that some folks simply just cannot afford such a drastic increase all at once,” he said.

In some parts of Graduate Hospital and Point Breeze, he said, some residents are facing tax bills 1,000 percent higher than what they paid previously.

Councilman Bill Green also weighed in with an AVI bill. His proposal would tax nonprofits on property used for commercial activity that is outside the scope of their charitable, religious or educational mission. About one-third of Philadelphia properties are exempt from taxes because they belong to a nonprofit, more than in many other cities.

Over the years, Green said, some nonprofits have added for-profit activities but still don’t pay taxes on land and buildings used for those purposes. Some nonprofits, for example, rent space in their buildings to for-profit businesses.

His proposal would require non-profits to certify annually under penalty of perjury their continued non-profit status for all tax-exempt properties. It also allows the city to tax non-profits based on the percentage of property they use for commercial purposes.

Councilman Bill Green took aim at employers who demand social media account information from current or prospective employees with a bill that would ban the practice in the city.

“Asking workers or potential hires for their Facebook account information is a disturbing trend that must be stopped," Greenlee said. "Workers deserve and expect a reasonable amount of privacy and First Amendment protections. In addition, there is the potential for unlawful discrimination — against women who become pregnant, for example."

Council also passed a bill sponsored by Greenlee that requires anyone keeping a horse in the city to have at least a half-acre of land. Owners also would have to get licenses and submit to inspections.

Greenlee introduced the bill in December, shortly after after three horses and a dead pony were removed from a dilapidated building

Officials with the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which takes in three to five horses a month, either victims of cruelty or strays, applauded the passage of the ordinance.

PSPCA President Jerry Buckley said his organization had been advocating for the change for a long time.

Philadelphia is one of the few large cities without a law governing the keeping of horses, he said, and he hopes the new rules will save the animals from neglect.

Staff Writers Troy Graham and Amy Worden contributed to this story.




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