Right moves are made on AVI

Posted: June 17, 2012

City Council was wise to pull back Mayor Nutter's plan to implement a needed new property-tax system before all the necessary assessment data was available. It's never a good idea to shoot before you locate your target.

The decision to delay the Actual Value Initiative in no way diminishes the accomplishment Nutter has achieved in beginning to craft this welcome reform. But it isn't soup yet, and shouldn't be served to the public before it's ready if it is to be he basis for the city budget.

The reassessment of all city properties won't be ready until at least late summer, well after the tax rate must be set to begin the new fiscal year on July 1.

The mayor had asked Council to adopt a budget without knowing how the new assessments would impact property owners' tax bills. That just wasn't fair, and it was good to see Council acknowledge that.

Some details may change before Council takes a final budget vote, but delaying AVI gives the city time to give property owners the information they need to prepare for new — and in many cases, higher — tax bills.

The delay doesn't mean AVI is being scrapped. The process must be completed to replace a property-tax system so scattershot with exceptions that identical homes in close proximity were often assessed at vastly different amounts.

The delay also gives Councilman James Kenney time to refine a smart bill needed to protect longtime residents of gentrifying neighborhoods from skyrocketing tax bills. Kenney, however, should add a means test to his legislation. A comfortable Society Hill resident shouldn't get the same tax break provided to more modest households in Fishtown and other neighborhoods that are also likely to see their taxes leap.

Kenney's bill may also help to allay longtime North Philadelphia residents' fears of being displaced by a growing student population that is spurring increased development around Temple University.

Nutter had wanted to use AVI to send an additional $94 million to public schools. His heart was in the right place, but the idea was a hard sell since AVI was originally touted as revenue-neutral.

Instead, Council proposes giving the schools $40 million through a property-tax hike and an increase in a business tax.

The district must meet certain academic and security conditions to get the money, though, which should send a signal to Gov. Corbett and the legislature that Philadelphia is serious about holding the district accountable for its spending. Now the state needs to help fill the gap in addressing the district's anticipated deficit.

This budget deal was newly elected Council President Darrell L. Clarke's first big test, and he showed a steady hand. He made sure there were bills moving through the pipeline that covered all the options. He brokered a compromise with Nutter, and pledged his commitment to the mayor's plan to overhaul assessments.

Kudos, too, to Councilman Bill Green, who set up an Internet calculator so people could at least make educated guesses about their tax bills in the absence of final figures from the city.

Council is finally showing the type of leadership that has been missing from it for too long.

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