In the crosshairs, Council tries to defuse tax anger

Posted: February 22, 2013

AFTER YEARS of discussion about the city's move to a new property-tax system based on market values, the pressure is now on to aid the people it will affect the most.

City Council has been flooded with calls from residents who are up in arms over skyrocketing assessments under the Actual Value Initiative.

"I'm going to fight and call my committeeperson," said Massele Harry, 62, who, with assessment notices in hand, approached Councilman Bill Green after Council's session on Thursday. Harry owns five houses and disputes the assessments. The taxes on all the properties combined would rise by a few hundred dollars.

If Council sets a 1.25 percent tax rate under AVI, 60 percent of homeowners will see tax increases, including several thousand by more than $1,000 a year.

"Should all property owners pay their fair share? Absolutely," said Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, whose 2nd District includes some hard-hit areas, like South Philly, Point Breeze and the former Graduate Hospital area. "But, realistically, these residents did not create this system, and we need to recognize that some folks simply just cannot afford such a drastic increase all at once."

Johnson introduced a bill Thursday that creates a hardship deferment that would allow eligible homeowners to defer any amount exceeding 2.5 times their previous tax bill until they can afford it, or until the house is sold. The owner must meet eligibility guidelines. The hardship would apply only to primary residences, and owners would have to pay at least $1,000 in property taxes. Deferred payments would be subject to a lien until payment.

The Nutter administration has some concerns about the bill. "We're hoping the person would sell, but if they pass away, then the relatives inherit the debt," said Revenue Commissioner Keith Richardson.

Some tax-relief measures are already on the books, including a deferral program that has never been used. Also, low-income seniors can freeze their tax bills, and payment plans are available for other seniors, low-income residents and tax delinquents.

A homestead exemption that would reduce $30,000 from homeowner's assessment has already been passed. Council is also eyeing gentrification relief for longtime homeowners.

Meanwhile, Green introduced a bill, co-sponsored by Wilson Goode Jr., that would require nonprofits with exempted real estate to verify their nonprofit status annually, believing that that could generate some property-tax revenue.

On Twitter: @Jan_Ransom


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