Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Reassessing the BRT

We need quickest fix possible for troubled agency

EVERYONE WANTS the BRT to die - and quick. But how?

We know that the Philadelphia Board of Revision of Taxes is broken. The agency responsible for property-tax assessments has been exposed as being mired in corruption and incompetence. A devastating investigative series by the Inquirer found that jobs were going to the politically connected and that real-estate assessments were inequitable and sometimes manipulated.

The need for reform is as clear. Thankfully, some wheels have started to turn. On Wednesday, the School Reform Commission took the first step in transferring BRT workers off the school district payroll and onto the city's. (Working for the district allowed BRT employees to duck the ban on political activities that covers most city workers.)

However, much more dramatic change is needed. To that end, Mayor Nutter is forming a task force to tackle the problem. Our biggest fear: more delay for changes that should have come a long time ago.

But some delay is unavoidable. Here's what has to happen: Nutter and City Council must agree on an alternate structure and then put it before the voters. That's because any major change to the BRT will require changing the city Home Rule Charter, our local equivalent of the Constitution. All charter changes need the approval of Council, and then must be approved by the voters.

Charter changes must be passed by Council at least 45 days before an election. To get on the ballot for the next election - Nov. 3 - any BRT reforms would have to be passed by Sept. 17, Council's first day back from summer recess. The bill would have to get out of committee by June 18 and have a first reading on the same day to be ready in the fall.

This condensed timeline makes it highly unlikely that any reforms will pass Council in time to appear on the ballot this year, which means we'll likely have to wait until the spring 2010 primary election.

Why can't the mayor and Council get it together before the deadline? While it's obvious that the BRT needs reform, what the actual solution should be is less clear right now.

THERE ARE many possibilities, ranging from changing the appointment process for the BRT to putting assessments under the control of the executive branch, to allowing the state to take over the whole thing. The BRT is a complicated entity, with tentacles that raise money for city government and provide the school district with revenue, and ties to the court system that appoints the board.

Real change takes time, but we also can't help noting the fondness that elected officials have for creating task forces and committees.

The mayor and Council must keep their eyes on the prize, which is a speedy replacement of the broken system with a property-tax-assessment agency that we can trust. *