Bills would give Philadelphians some relief from expected higher AVI taxes

Posted: February 23, 2013

As the push to modernize Philadelphia's property-tax assessments moves forward, City Council on Thursday introduced bills that would provide tax relief to people who cannot afford big hikes and one that would tax nonprofits on any properties used for commercial purposes.

The new system, known as Actual Value Initiative (AVI), aims to align assessed values with market values. Under AVI, some people's tax bills will fall, but others will be much higher.

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, whose district includes Graduate Hospital and other neighborhoods where tax bills are expected to soar in 2014, introduced a bill that would limit increases for households whose income does not exceed 160 percent of an area's median income.

People in that group could defer any increases greater than 2.5 times their previous tax bill until they sold their property or could otherwise afford to pay. Everyone would be required to pay at least $1,000.

"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," he said.

In some parts of Graduate Hospital and Point Breeze, he said, some residents are facing tax bills 10 times higher than previous ones.

Councilman Bill Green weighed in with an bill that would tax nonprofits on property used for commercial activity outside the scope of their charitable, religious, or educational missions. About one-third of Philadelphia properties are exempt from taxes because they belong to nonprofits, more than in many other cities.

Over the years, Green said, some nonprofits have added for-profit activities but still do not pay taxes on land and buildings used for those purposes. Some nonprofits, for example, rent space to for-profit businesses.

His proposal would require nonprofits to certify annually, under penalty of perjury, their continued nonprofit status for all tax-exempt properties. It also would allow the city to tax nonprofits based on the percentage of property they use for commercial purposes.

In other business, Councilman William K. Greenlee took aim at employers who demand social-media account information from current or prospective employees with a bill that would ban the practice in the city.

"Asking workers or potential hires for their Facebook account information is a disturbing trend that must be stopped," Greenlee said. "Workers deserve and expect a reasonable amount of privacy and First Amendment protections. In addition, there is the potential for unlawful discrimination - against women who become pregnant, for example."

Council also passed a bill sponsored by Greenlee that requires anyone keeping a horse in the city to have at least a half-acre of land. Owners also would have to get licenses and submit to inspections.

Greenlee introduced the bill in December, shortly after three horses and a dead pony were removed from a dilapidated building.

Officials with the Pennsylvania SPCA, which takes in from three to five horses a month that are strays or victims of cruelty, applauded the passage of the ordinance. PSPCA president Jerry Buckley said his organization had advocated for the change for a long time.

Philadelphia has been one of the nation's few large cities without a law governing the keeping of horses, he said, and he hopes the new rules will save animals from neglect.


Contact Miriam Hill at 215-280-7312, hillmb@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @miriamhill.

Inquirer staff writers Troy Graham and Amy Worden contributed to this article.

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