The Office of Property Assessment seems poised to mail out new property assessments when they are completed and certified despite the fact that City Council has decided to wait one more year to implement Mayor Michael Nutter’s Actual Value Initiative.
“We have a statutory responsibility,” Nutter told reporters Thursday at a late afternoon press conference. “When those values are certified, we have to use them.”
It was a line he repeated over and over as baffled reporters pressed him as to what the administration’s plans were, or whether the OPA could simply delay certifying new assessments for a year to put it in sync with City Council.
“In a couple of months we’ll actually have all of the values,” he said.
Reassessment of approximately 577,000 residences in the city is expected to be finished by the end of July.
If new numbers are certified, it could mean that in October, city property owners would receive bills with new assessments, but with millage rates based on the old aggregate value of all of the city’s real estate - meaning skyrocketing property taxes for most homeowners, at least until Council chooses to implement AVI.
Last week, Council members voted to delay AVI for one year, concerned that they lacked the assessment data needed to make prudent budget decisions.
Members continued to wrestle with the budget this week – and scheduled another meeting next week, signaling no clear consensus on any one plan – but took no action on any of the tax bills or budget proposals before them.
As members deliberated on the fourth floor of city hall, Nutter called reporters together on the second floor to discuss his thoughts on the school funding measures being discussed as part of the budget.
Nutter acknowledged that to avoid confusion and skyrocketing taxes caused by mismatched assessments and millage rates, the city is seeking state authority to avoid tax equalization rules.
The mayor also said that among the ideas being discussed at city hall was the possibility of re-opening the city’s budget later this calendar year, next fiscal year, to include new assessment numbers and a new millage rate, which could mean AVI this calendar year.
“That did not come from us,” Nutter said, noting that it came from the Philadelphia delegation in Harrisburg. “But I heard about it, talked about it, and looked at it.”
It would be used as a “back-up,” if the city was forced to conform to tax equalization rules.
“We have not received any assurances that that particular measure could happen, or that the STEB relief matter is guaranteed. It’s another legislative body, so I’m not going to speak for them,” he said.
The reason for Nutter’s press conference was to discuss his concerns about school funding in the city budget.
Council members have grown more reluctant to simply give money to the school district. In March, Nutter proposed a budget that would have given the district about $94 million. Council, during the course of budget talks, whittled that down to $45 million, and most recently $40.
“The number has been moving in the wrong direction,” Nutter said. “I would like to see more because the district desperately needs those dollars. This is about children.”
Council members are concerned that district officials and the School Reform commission have, for the last several years, come to Council asking for more and more money.
Speaking as Council took a break Thursday afternoon, Council President Darrell Clarke said he couldn’t predict what would happen with the budget.
“Things are still in flux,” he said.
Members met during a very lengthy session Thursday, wading through a long agenda of non-budget items as they anticipated the end of the spring session next week. They resumed meeting again at 4 p.m. to sharpen their focus on the budget.
Clarke said he had not talked to the mayor and could not be reached after Council’s break to speak on Nutter’s comments.
Members heard a lot of public testimony Thursday, asking Council to increase school funding. At least 38 people signed up to speak to council, many from Service Employees International Union, Local 32BJ, District 1201 who face layoffs as the district downsizes. The urged council members to support an increase in the use and occupancy tax to boost the amount given to the district.
“We implore you to find the resources,” said union leader George Richezza.
But, others were against raising the use and occupancy tax and urged higher property taxes instead.
In other news, Council authorized hearings to look into the use of ATV’s in the city and how police deal with them.
“Neighbors and community leaders have quite frankly had enough,” said the hearings sponsor, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown. “Communities and families need to know that we hear them and are looking for solutions.”