Amid the ongoing budget debate between Mayor Nutter and City Council it was refreshing to hear from real taxpayers who actually fund the budget. The clear message from residents who attended a budget hearing Tuesday at Mount Airy Church of God in Christ on Ogontz Avenue is that the mayor and Council need to rethink plans to raise taxes. “Basically, if you don’t have the money, neither do I,” said Rhonda Moore of Olney.
Moore summed up the sentiments of many rowhouse residents struggling to make ends meet in the middle of a brutal recession. Residents are battling through layoffs, pay cuts, and pay freezes, while their costs for goods and services go up. Many feel like they have tightened their belts and so should the city. But instead Nutter and Council want to raise taxes to fund a budget that increases spending and adds more city workers to the payroll.
Many residents are opposed to Nutter’s proposal to charge a $300 annual trash fee and raise taxes on sugary drinks. They are also opposed to City Council’s plan to replace Nutter’s new revenue measures with a 9 percent increase in property taxes. Council argues that it has not raised property taxes for 21 years. Technically, that may be accurate. But property taxes have increased steadily for many residents through increased property assessments.
Council’s plan to raise property taxes is especially premature given the city’s assessments are in complete disarray and the Board of Revision of Taxes has gone rogue. Rather than ram through a double-digit, property-tax hike, the rest of Council and the mayor should follow Councilman Bill Greene’s suggestion that they first further reduce spending. In fact, if the $3.9 billion budget were cut by just 3.3 percent the need for the $130 million in tax hikes would go away. That certainly seems doable and reasonable. Raising taxes sends the wrong message about the direction of a city that already has one of the highest tax burdens in the country.
Credit the Council members for venturing into the neighborhoods and taking the time to listen to their constituents. Last week’s was the first of several budget hearings that will be held outside of City Hall. Often, the mayor and Council are influenced by parties with vested interests in various parts of the budget. Just consider the soda tax, which has essentially been killed by a couple of big businesses and their small army of connected lobbyists. Meanwhile, the rowhouse residents who work and pay their taxes are not as organized or vocal. They are the silent majority. And many of them are fed up with the way City Hall operates. Hopefully, the feedback from average citizens will prompt Council and the mayor to realize that many residents can’t afford the proposed tax hikes.