Some members vowed to oppose the BRT's plan to adopt new assessment values with all their might, while others warned of inevitable lawsuits if the BRT fails to enact the new assessments.
Relations between the independent BRT and City Council have long been touchy.
In theory, it is the agency's job to set assessments for all properties in the city, and Council's job to set the property-tax rate.
For well over a decade, though, both sides have failed to live up to those basic obligations.
BRT itself acknowledges that its old values are inaccurate, inequitable, and baffling.
Council, meanwhile, has not adjusted the property-tax rate in 18 years. Instead, it has let BRT's steadily increasing assessments of homes and businesses plump up city revenues. The practice is akin to a back-door tax increase, one that has let Council avoid the political heat that comes with routinely adjusting the tax rate, as is regularly done in counties and cities across the country.
Last week, the BRT took a step that should eventually end that tradition.
The agency released new assessments for 577,000 properties citywide. The tentative values, which differ dramatically from the ones now in use, were developed using sophisticated computer models. Although there are still clearly problems with the figures, they do appear more accurate than the old ones.
Just as important, the new system gives the BRT the ability to reassess every property in the city each year, which will force Council to regularly adjust the tax rate.
Council, though, is in no mood to trust that the BRT got it right.
Early in the hearing, for instance, Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. asked if the agency's policy of permitting its evaluators to moonlight as private appraisers posed conflict-of-interest problems.
"It's possible that it could," Barry Mescolotto, the BRT's acting chief assessor, acknowledged - a reply that had some Council members laughing in rueful disbelief.
Later, Councilman Bill Green wondered how the city could contemplate raising property taxes while still using the old assessments, as Mayor Nutter has proposed.
To do so, Green argued, would be to court a class-action lawsuit, given that BRT's own consultants have proven conclusively that the system is broken.
"This is great data, it's great information," Green said, slapping a BRT report. "It's also a plaintiff's lawyer's dream."
At one point, Green asked BRT chairwoman Charlesretta Meade whether the current assessment system was fair.
"I don't think so," Meade acknowledged.
But she repeatedly sought to convince Council that the transition to the new methodology - called the Actual Value Initiative - would lead to fair, accurate, and uniform assessments.
Because the current assessments are so inaccurate, moving to the new figures will dramatically change property-tax bills across the city. Fifty-six percent of homeowners will pay more - on average, about $500 more - while 42 percent will get decreases averaging $200, according to an Inquirer analysis of the new figures.
Although many Council members say they welcome accurate and more equitable numbers, they are clearly leery of what the transition will mean for their constituents, particularly long-time residents living in gentrifying neighborhoods and those on fixed incomes.
Councilman Jones, referring to an Inquirer analysis of the Actual Value numbers, complained that the new figures would shift a larger share of the property-tax burden onto homeowners, and off of business.
"It's Robin Hood in reverse," Jones said.
"This is not Sherwood Forest," Meade shot back.
She argued that the BRT's job was solely to set accurate property values, and that it was up to Council to enact legislation that would protect homeowners from any unduly sharp increases in their tax bills.
Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell was not swayed by that argument.
"I can't sit by and let that happen on my watch, not without doing everything we can to speak out against it, complain against it, tell people what their public recourse is," Blackwell said. "It's just not fair."
Contact staff writer Patrick Kerkstra at 215-854-2827 or email@example.com.