Getting Billed: All In Due Time

Posted: December 06, 2011

WHEN WILL you get a new tax bill in the mail?

The Nutter administration expects to have the bills out next December. But consider this: Efforts to change the city's tax system date back at least seven years, so the projection could be off.

Political inertia has kept this issue on the slow track. Granted, progress has recently been made - right now, all 577,000 residential and commercial properties in Philadelphia are in the process of being reassessed. But there are still obstacles to overcome.

Here's what has to happen, and how long it might take, to get a new, fair tax system:

* Dec. 31: This is the date by which the Nutter administration wants the state to pass "enabling" legislation that allows the city to provide certain types of property-tax relief to residents. For instance, a "homestead exemption" would excuse owners from a certain portion of property taxes - say, the first $50,000 of their home's value. This device is often used to provide relief for senior citizens and others on fixed incomes. "Smoothing legislation" would base tax bills on an average of assessments over time, so they wouldn't leap immediately.

Without these types of laws, people on fixed incomes could get hit with a huge tax hikes.

The mayor wants this passed by year's end so that it's in place when Council passes a new tax rate, which must be done by June 30. If the enabling legislation isn't passed, it will be more difficult to get Council on board. That could threaten the administration's plan to reform the tax system next year.

In order for owners to get property-tax relief, the drop-dead deadline for the state to pass this legislation isn't until months later.

*  June 30: Council has to set a new property-tax rate. It must reflect the fact that new tax bills will be based on the full value of properties. Currently, owners pay a 9 percent tax on just a portion - 32 percent - of their property's "value" according to the city.

But the Nutter administration doesn't expect to finish the assessments by June. That means Council will have to change the tax rate without knowing how much

individual property values will change.

Some Council members aren't happy about this because they won't be able to judge fully how the new assessments - and thus new tax bills - will affect constituents. They'll know only how the reform will affect the city generally.

If Council refuses to change the rate without the assessments in place, that could delay reform for a year or more.

*  Next fall: The Nutter administration has to finish reassessing all properties in Philadelphia in order to send out new tax bills on time. It expects to mail notices in September informing owners of their new property values.

*  Next December; If all goes

according to plan, new property bills will go out in the mail.

*  March 2013: Pay up! The new bills are due. Only time will tell if they'll be based on a fair tax system or the troubled one we have now.

- Holly Otterbein

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