IN A CITY where it's hard to find agreement on anything, we seem to be united in our disgust at the owners of the 100,000 tax-delinquent properties in the city. Coming up a close second is the history of noncollection of those taxes by the city - both forces leading to a dangerous decline of buildings, neighborhoods and values.
Turns out that being a tax deadbeat is not the lowest you can go after all. No - that position is reserved for the officials at the Board of Revision of Taxes, who are ever-so-slowly moving their way through property-tax appeals, not because the appeals are complicated but because they don't think they need to work any faster until they get a pay raise. Until then, they're moving on appeals as if taking a slow, meandering walk in the woods - and that means millions of dollars to both the city and the school district.
After an overhaul last year of the property-tax system to one based on actual value, 23,000 appeals were filed. As of last week, the BRT has ruled or scheduled hearings up until the end of May on about 20 percent of them. Board chairman Russell Nigro has implied that they're not getting paid enough to move faster.
That's just the latest in a long history of drama from the board. Following years of performing as a dysfunctional patronage haven, the BRT was set to be eliminated, but sued to remain alive. Their assessment functions were taken away into a separate agency, but BRT was retained to hear appeals. That's when their salaries were reduced by the Nutter administration. And that's when BRT sued again, and got their money reinstated based on the court ruling that the city could not alter their salaries in the middle of a term.
But that left some newer members under the old $150 per diem rate - a rate too low for BRT's Nigro to ask them to work faster.
Council stepped in and granted them a raise, but we guess that until the money hits the paychecks, there will be no sweat broken over the appeals schedule.
The Nutter administration has let the new salary pass into law, even though it's hard to understand why someone hasn't challenged this based on the earlier ruling from the Supreme Court.
All these are legal technicalities, though. The reality is that the slowness of the pace of appeals has a direct impact on the school district, since uncollected property taxes means that much less money for the district. Thanks once again to the unhelpful City Council, those property owners who are appealing must pay only the old rate, not the new one, until their appeals are resolved. The difference between the old rate and the new one for those cases under appeal is about $5 million for the district alone. And that's just for this year's appeals. At its current rate, the last of the appeals for next year's tax bills will be five years away.
Wonder how many counselors or school librarians Philadelphia's school children could get with that?
Nigro, former state justice, lost his re-election bid to the Supreme Court for his role in the Harrisburg pay-raise scandal. It's nice to see he's consistent in his career direction.