Friday, July 31, 2015

Archive: March, 2012

POSTED: Tuesday, March 20, 2012, 2:12 PM

Last year, the city reaped more than $500,000 from "payments in lieu of taxes" from for-profit businesses getting tax breaks. Developers like John Westrum, Dyott Street and Berks Street Corp. are a few of the contributors.

Why would a business pay the city voluntarily?

Pennsylvania gives state and local tax breaks to businesses that set up shop in blighted areas known as "Keystone Opportunity Zones."

Holly Otterbein @ 2:12 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, March 20, 2012, 1:43 PM
Thomas Jefferson University Hospital enjoys nonprofit status. (Michael Bryant/Staff Photographer)

MAYOR NUTTER wants residents and businesses to fork over an additional $90 million in property taxes in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
But many well-known institutions on valuable land have nothing to worry about - like the University of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Drexel. They're nonprofits, so they don't pay property taxes.
There was a time when they would have chipped in anyway.
In the 1990s, then-Mayor Ed Rendell coaxed many nonprofits into "payments in lieu of taxes," or PILOTs. The nonprofits agreed to pay a portion of what they would owe in property taxes were they not tax-exempt. In return, the city promised not to challenge their nonprofit status.
In 1995, the city reaped more than $9 million annually from PILOT arrangements with more than 40 nonprofits.
But by 2009 the money had fallen to just $687,000 from 17 institutions. In 2011 only $383,700 trickled in from nine nonprofits.
Big institutions like Penn that once chipped in no longer do. Most of the money now comes from lesser-known institutions, like the retirement community Cathedral Village and the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing School.
Kathleen Rohrbaugh, marketing manager of the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing School, says she had no idea PILOTs had dwindled.
What happened?
One likely reason is the poor economy. Another is a 1997 state law that eliminated the city's leverage over nonprofits, according to Christine Bak, an attorney in the city's Law Department.
Before that law, several state Supreme Court rulings narrowly defined a nonprofit. This made it possible for the city to threaten to sue to take away nonprofits' tax-exempt status - which gave the city a hammer.
But the state passed Act 55 in 1997, spelling out what organizations must do to become tax-exempt.
"We don't have that ability to twist their arm" anymore, Bak says.
Critics say the city could do more to wrangle PILOTs from well-heeled institutions. A few years ago, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl convinced Pittsburgh universities to beef up contributions by threatening to impose a 1 percent tax on tuition.
Gloria Gilman, executive director of the civic group Neighborhood Networks, says she'd like to see that kind of muscle-flexing in Philly.
"Maybe the city can't take away their nonprofit status," she says, "but they can embarrass them."
Not everyone thinks the city should beef up its PILOTs program.
Jeffrey Cooper, Penn's vice president of government and community affairs, says Philadelphia's "meds and eds" stimulate the city's economy and employ workers who pay a large sum in city wage taxes.
When asked how this distinguishes them from for-profit businesses, Cooper says nonprofits like Penn also give back to the city by offering services like police support.
But Kevin Gillen, vice president of the economic adviser Econsult, points out that these nonprofits still use city services.
"Penn and Temple use Philadelphia police, Philadelphia trash collection, Philadelphia Water Department, Philadelphia Fire Department," he says.
Bak says many nonprofits are "hurting as much as the city." She also points out that although nonprofit PILOT plans have dwindled, the city recently began persuading some for-profits to make voluntary payments (see accompanying story.)
Bak says the city is open to striking more PILOT deals with nonprofits. But without a change to Act 55, it seems unlikely the city will resume getting millions of dollars from those arrangements anytime soon.

Mayor Nutter wants residents and businesses to fork over an additional $90 million in property taxes in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

But many well-known institutions on valuable land have nothing to worry about — like the University of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Drexel. They're nonprofits, so they don't pay property taxes.

Holly Otterbein @ 1:43 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, March 20, 2012, 1:01 PM

While Councilman Curtis Jones and Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell were proposing to legalize those obnoxious "We Buy Houses!" signs last month, the Nutter administration was quietly cooking up some sign-fighting tactics of its own. Its new plan to fight back against so-called bandit signs is two-fold, said Brian Abernathy, chief of staff to the Managing Director: ramp up enforcement with a staff dedicated to tracking down offenders, and get city agencies to focus on taking the signs down.

What was the city previously doing to rid our utility poles of these blasted signs?

Not much. In 2010, the city wrote only eight tickets for illegal signs. When we called the Streets Department and Licenses and Inspections to ask about current enforcement, they both declined to comment.

Juliana Reyes @ 1:01 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Monday, March 19, 2012, 6:52 PM
Council President Darrell Clarke (right) deserves credit for holding last week's hearing on the city's budget. But there needs to be many more meetings like it. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)

Last week, Council held a hearing about the city's budget in the heart of a Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood. In today's podcast, reporters Holly Otterbein and Juliana Reyes talk about how the meeting drew lots of smart, passionate residents, and why this proves that events like these should be the rule, rather than the exception.
 
Currently, Council members hold community hearings like this infrequently. And they still haven't scheduled a single hearing about their own budget.

Last week, Council held a hearing about the city's budget in the heart of a Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood. In today's podcast, reporters Holly Otterbein and Juliana Reyes talk about how the meeting drew lots of smart, passionate residents, and why this proves that events like these should be the rule, rather than the exception. 

Currently, Council members hold community hearings like this infrequently. And they still haven't scheduled a single hearing about their own budget.

Holly Otterbein and Juliana Reyes @ 6:52 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Monday, March 19, 2012, 11:22 AM
Larry Shubert, a property-tax assessor for Philadelphia, walks around the streets of Manayunk and determines home values. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

Philadelphia's property-tax system is undergoing monumental changes.

So was the property-tax system in Allegheny County, home to Pittsburgh ... until that plan went belly-up this year.

On Friday, I took to WHYY's airwaves to report on Allegheny County's mistakes, and explore whether Philly can learn any lessons from the debacle across the state.

Holly Otterbein @ 11:22 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Friday, March 16, 2012, 10:03 AM
Sometimes life isn't like TV. (Courtesy of Parks & Recreation)

The TV show "Parks & Rec" likes to send up the absurdity that can be community meetings, portraying them as long, boring and punctuated by unhinged residents shouting about UFOs and national security.

Here in the Cradle of Liberty, we know better. Maybe because we've been at it for so long, the city's residents are known for being informed, and more importantly, showing up to fight for their beliefs. The latest proof of this: Wednesday night's budget hearing at the St. John's AME Church in Southwest Philly.

More than 70 people crowded into the church's basement. The majority of folks who sounded off on the city's budget — including block captains, union members, civic leaders and developers — were smart and passionate.

POSTED: Wednesday, March 14, 2012, 4:33 PM
(Courtesy of deathreference.com)

This is the fifth installment of the "Philadelphian Horror Story" series, in which we tell you about the monsters lurking in the city's budget.

If the city sells off its bridges, buildings and parks, will that choice later haunt residents like the terrifying spirits of Poltergeist?

All the stars seem to be aligning for the city to soon peddle off large properties or utilities, like its airport, roads and parking meters. Mayor Nutter has created a task force to examine the idea, known as “asset sales.” A financial adviser says the city could possibly make almost $500 million from hawking Philadelphia Gas Works.

Holly Otterbein and Doron Taussig @ 4:33 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, March 14, 2012, 11:19 AM

THE WATER bottles lying in a pile on Buttonwood Street were not filled with water. Their contents were a mysterious, yellow liquid - one closer to brown, the others the color of lemonade.

Like Cris, the Callowhill resident who told us about the bottles, we assumed it was urine. But in the name of journalistic integrity, we had to be certain. Yes, readers, we opened the bottles and smelled them. Fortunately (or unfortunately), it took only one whiff: definitely urine.

But let's start at the beginning. Last month, Cris, who keeps us updated on quality-of-life issues in Callowhill, let us know that there was a big pile of "urine bottles" on Buttonwood Street near the Reading Viaduct. The pile, about 10 half-liter bottles deep, had been there for at least a month, he said. He also alerted 3-1-1 via Twitter.

Juliana Reyes @ 11:19 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
About this blog
Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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