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Council moves closer to abolishing BRT

A City Council committee this morning approved 12-1 sweeping legislation that would abolish the embattled Board of Revision of Taxes, and replace it with a property assessing agency under the mayor's supervision and an independent appeals board.

The vote, which was widely anticipated, sets the stage for final approval in City Council on Dec. 17.

There was no public testimony, and - apart from BRT workers who fear they may lose their jobs - there appears to be no organized opposition to the reforms, which come in the wake of an Inquirer series that exposed widespread mismanagement, inaccurate assessments and possible corruption at the agency.

Yet the vote was nearly derailed by council hand-wringing over the fate of over 80 patronage workers at the BRT who are currently paid off the School District payroll to skirt city rules banning political activity by city employees.

The council members wasted hardly a moment discussing or debating the broader impact of the legislation, which stands to effect every property in the City of Philadelphia. Instead, the entire debate centered on whether or not the administration would do enough to preserve the livelihoods of the patronage workers, some of whom owe their jobs to council members who used their political clout to secure their jobs.

Speaking on behalf of the Nutter administration, city Finance Director Rob Dubow repeatedly refused to outline just what the administration plans to do with the workers, though he promised to have an answer for Council ahead of the anticipated Dec. 17 final vote.

With some difficultly, Councilman Bill Green, who introduced the landmark legislation, convinced his colleagues to go ahead and vote for the bill even though the fate of the patronage workers is unclear. He urged fellow council members to use the leverage of future non-cooperation with Mayor Nutter to ensure that the administration protects the jobs of the patronage employees.

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell was the only council member to vote against moving the bill out of committee.

If approved by Council next week, voters will be asked during the May primary election to approve the abolition of the BRT.

The Nutter administration already has day-to-day control of the assessment wing of the formerly independent agency. In a vote this morning, the BRT signed off on a memorandum of understanding that cedes oversight of its property valuation employees and policies to Dubow.

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