Philly tax board vacates its responsibility

Instead of facing a work backlog, Philadelphia tax board members have joined summer vacationers like these.

Work piling up? Got you stressed? Take a vacation. The job will wait.

That’s the ethic at the Board of Revision of Taxes. In the face of a backlog of more than 1,700 tax appeals that could cost the city and schools $21 million in revenue, the seven-member board slid out of public view July 13 for a six-week vacation.

And, why not? They don’t seem to answer to anybody, least of all the taxpayers who rely on city services and schools.

Don’t confuse them with President Trump taking a vacation after a few months of confusion, failed legislative initiatives, a probe into Russian election meddling, and a brewing conflict with North Korea.

No, these folks have perfected the art of turning a part-time job into a full-time paycheck. Trump could learn from them.

The Board of Revision of Taxes meets about two times a week to hear tax appeals. Sometimes they meet three times a week.

That’s a part-time schedule for full-time pay. Five members are paid $70,000 a year. Chairman Eugene E.J. Maier, a retired judge, gets $75,000. Board Secretary Robert N.C. Nix III makes $72,000.

A few years ago, under Mayor Michael Nutter, the BRT was busted into two parts to deal with the ineffective patronage haven it had become. Before the change, two identical houses right next to each other might have vastly different assessments and resulting tax bills.

The function of the board moved away from property assessments — which are now handled separately — and focused solely on appeals.

Nutter tried to cut the board’s pay to $150 a day. The board sued and the court agreed that salaries couldn’t be cut.

Then, a year later, when the board members wanted even more money, the board had a work slowdown, and held up more than 20,000 appeals worth $48 million in taxes.

City Council finally capitulated and established the current salary levels for board members.

Now the board, which can barely handle a part-time schedule, has taken six weeks off.

This disregard for taxpayers and the city at large shouldn’t be tolerated.

The Board of Judges appoints tax board members and then washes its hands of them. Both the judges and the tax board members, who have a strained relationship with the notion of public service, should be held accountable.

But that’s not likely to happen. The judges will just pull their black robes over their heads and the board members will find some other way to bully the city.

Mayor Kenney needs to figure out a way to put the board on a permanent vacation. He and City Council share responsibility to ensure that tax appeals are heard in a timely manner and the city and its struggling schools get the revenue they need to run.

There’s not a lot of time. In 2018, the board expects to hear from powerful, large commercial property owners whose properties were recently reassessed.

With its current work ethic, the tax board clearly isn’t up to the job.