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Clout: Realtors on shaky ground over property-tax mailing

A MAILING from the Great- er Philadelphia Association of Realtors caught PhillyClout's eye this week with its big bold warning that "Philadelphia's budget 'Compromise' is a budget sham!"

A MAILING from the Great-

er Philadelphia Association of Realtors caught PhillyClout's eye this week with its big bold warning that "Philadelphia's budget 'Compromise' is a budget sham!"

The ominous mailing warns that City Council and Mayor Nutter are planning to raise property taxes by 19 percent if state legislators don't approve a 1-cent increase in the city's sales tax.

We noticed just one problem.

There is no looming property-tax increase in the city.

Nutter, in March, proposed raising property taxes for two years, by 19 percent in July and then 14.5 percent next July, but dropped that plan last month in the face of stiff Council opposition.

"It's inaccurate," said Finance Director Rob Dubow, who received the mailing at home and was perplexed by the property-tax accusation. "It's off the table. After the fiscal year starts, you can't increase the property tax."

Fiscal years start on July 1 and Council wraps up business for the summer recess next week. So there is no time to push through a new property-tax increase.

Councilman Bill Greenlee, not exactly known for his hot temper, called the mailing "blatantly unfair, misleading and just flat-out wrong" in a meeting yesterday.

"Far from advocating to raise taxes on property owners, it was members of this Council that led the effort against such increases," said Greenlee, who has spoken with some GPAR members. "They were unaware of this mailing and upset that their money was spent on such inaccuracy."

GPAR's mailing refers property owners to a Web site launched June 2 - - which helps them send an e-mail to Council.

The e-mail urges Council to balance the budget by "cutting some non-vital services and considering innovative programs such as SCOPE, which would allow the city to sell properties that are currently not on the tax rolls."

SCOPE stands for "Selling City-Owned Properties Efficiently," a pilot program already under way to sell blighted land owned by the city. Council last week approved hearings to consider expanding the program.

GPAR president Albert Perry now calls SCOPE a separate issue from the property-tax debate, even though his group raises it in the e-mail. He also declined to say what non-vital services should be cut.

"That's not really our position to determine what services would be non-vital," Perry said.

Greenlee recommended yesterday that GPAR lobby in Harrisburg for approval of the temporary sales-tax hike included in the compromise budget between Council and the mayor. Perry said that's not the type of issue in which his group usually gets involved. Asked if he thought that the mailing was inaccurate, Perry called it part of a longer campaign to raise concerns that a property-tax increase could be in the works.

"We've had no discussions on increasing the property tax," Dubow said.

Resignation watch

With three top Nutter officials out the door - two announcing resignations in the past month - we're launching a new feature here at PhillyClout called Resignation Watch.

So who could be next on the farewell tour? Here are a couple of top staffers who have generated more than a few rumors.

_ Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey: As we've reported before, the city's top cop can't get on a train out of town without the rumor mill buzzing that he's never coming back. Ramsey told us that the talk is just rumor, although he acknowledged that he has had offers.

"Never say never," Ramsey said, "but I haven't heard anything. And I'm not looking. I'm happy where I'm at."

_ Budget Director Steve Agostini: The quick-witted budget boss has worked in numerous city governments before Philly, including San Franciso and Milwaukee. Rumors continue to fly that he has his eye on our nation's capital. Agostini declined comment.

_ Senior adviser Pauline Abernathy: Abernathy took a four-month leave recently to work for a D.C.-based education nonprofit agency. Is that a step toward a soft exit?

Abernathy told us that she is committed to returning at the conclusion of her leave.

PhillyClout: Financial counselor

Given these tough economic times, PhillyClout is always looking for ways to make extra money. So we're now offering financial counseling to any administration officials seeking help.

Last week we pointed out to Managing Director Camille Barnett that her city financial-disclosure firm listed a payment of $181,965 in 2008 from her former employer, Public Financial Management. We were a little confused, since Barnett left that job in early 2008, so we called her up to ask about it.

Barnett said that the figure was wrong and that she's amending the form to reflect the much smaller amount she got last year from PFM. She has promised to share the corrected form with us when it is complete.


"What in God's name is he doing?"

- Gov. Rendell on U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak's plans to run in the 2010 Democratic Senate primary against formerly Republican Sen. Arlen Specter. *

Have tips or suggestions? Call Chris Brennan at 215-854-5973 or Catherine Lucey at 215-854-4712. Or e-mail

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