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Elmer Smith | Dear voter: It's not just candidates on the ballot

SO IT'S Election Day and you're in the booth. You've selected one of the five mayoral candidates and six of the 25 Council choices.

SO IT'S Election Day and

you're in the booth. You've selected one of the five mayoral candidates and six of the 25 Council choices.

If you are really conscientious, you even closed your eyes, ran your finger down that list of eleventy dozen judicial candidates, and yanked a couple of their levers. You're thinking, it's Miller time.

Not so fast, citizen!

We haven't heard from you on the eight questions that your elected officials have appended to the ballot, mainly so they could delay having to make a decision themselves.

How do you feel about appointing a youth commission to advise the mayor and City Council on policies that would affect youth? How about amending the city charter to create a 31-member Zoning Code Commission to make recommendations that Council could then ignore?

Maybe you'd like to amend the Home Rule Charter to permanently memorialize your opposition to an open-ended commitment to war in Iraq. That way the president could ignore you directly instead of just thumbing his nose at your congressmen and senators.

Here's one that actually makes sense. Should we borrow $129,695,000 for capital improvements to the city's infrastructure? Don't bother to read that long list of agencies and departments in the question.

You don't get to say which, whether or how any of those departments would be affected by the borrowed money.

One that you should certainly consider is Question Two. It would allow officials elected to city offices to retain their jobs while running for other offices. I think that would level the playing field so that a Council candidate, for instance, could run for mayor without resigning, same as any other candidate.

My personal favorite in the annals of useless initiatives is a proposed charter change "stating that the citizens of Philadelphia urge the stopping of real estate tax assessment increases which would result from the Board of Revision of Taxes use of a new method of figuring tax assessments called full valuation."

This is a buffer zone amendment. It's designed to put voters between City Council and that dreaded third rail of local government, a possible tax hike.

What is at issue and has been since Richardson Dilworth's suits were in style, is a proposal to assess every property in town by the same standard.

Under current policy, the Board of Revision of Taxes assesses properties at a percentage of market value. Right now it's about 32 percent. But, depending on when it was assessed last and some other fuzzy factors the BRT considers, your house could be assessed at a different percentage than the house across the street.

Putting all properties on the same footing would simplify the process and make it fairer and more transparent.

Problem is that people have been led to believe it would automatically raise their tax bills by an amount equal to the rise in the assessment ratio.

But City Council could avoid that by lowering the tax rate to correspond to the BRT's increase in the rate of assessment. Council decides the rate you are taxed at. The BRT just sets the value of your house.

A half-dozen bills gathering dust in Council committees could lower the rates. None of them will keep the BRT from changing the assessment ratio and no matter how the ratio is altered, some people's bills will go up while others will go down.

Council has no authority over assessments, nor do you. So Council can't leave that one up to you.

But they can put this meaningless question on the ballot to make it appear that they are giving you some say.

Eventually, Council must deal with it, and your vote won't change a thing.

So, that's it citizen. On May 15, your elected officials are urging you to do your part.

And more. *

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