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Editorial: Closing for the summer

It's not easy to shake a century of being "corrupt and contented," the tag journalist Lincoln Steffens applied to Philadelphia in 1904.

It's not easy to shake a century of being "corrupt and contented," the tag journalist Lincoln Steffens applied to Philadelphia in 1904.

Maybe that's why this city's leaders are in no rush to fix the Board of Revision of Taxes. Or tackle the pension perk for elected officials known as DROP (Deferred Retirement Option Plan).

For a brief, shining moment, it really looked like a new day at City Hall. After an Inquirer series detailed corruption, patronage, and incompetence at the BRT, Mayor Nutter asked its seven-member board to resign, and pledged to retool the agency that sets property-tax assessments.

City Council President Anna Verna suggested that Council convene a rare summer session to fix the BRT's problems. And Councilman Bill Green introduced one bill to overhaul the agency, and another to dismantle it.

But a month later, that urgency has fizzled. Instead, Council is focused on a much more pressing matter - its three-month vacation. No matter that the agency that decides the value of every city property is broken. That can wait until everyone gets back from the Shore. "After all," to quote that sage Scarlet O'Hara, "tomorrow is another day."

Granted, fixing the BRT won't be simple, and could take some time. Public input and scrutiny are needed to get it right.

But until the BRT is repaired, the public can't have confidence in the agency's starting a new full-valuation tax system that will likely hike taxes for thousands of homeowners. Implementing the new system without fixing the BRT is an invitation to lawsuits.

That's why there must be greater urgency to fix the BRT, and to make the city's property-tax system fair and accurate.

The same goes for the DROP program. This lucrative benefit never should have been made available to elected officials. The plan was sold in 1999 as a way to retain valuable municipal employees, and allow for the city to plan for an orderly transition when an essential worker retired.

One might ask why the city would need four years to plan for any person's retirement. That rationale certainly doesn't apply to elected officials, since voters at regular intervals decide whether to keep them in office.

Some elected officials have abused DROP by retiring for a day, collecting a lump-sum deferred pension payment plus interest, then returning to their jobs. City Councilwoman Joan Krajewski did that in January 2008, collecting a $274,587 DROP check.

Six other Council members are currently enrolled in the DROP program, so it's clear why Council is in no rush to do away with the lucrative perk. But it's an issue that will resonate with voters, especially as the city wrestles with budget cuts and tax hikes.

The public should watch closely. It's what the mayor and Council do - and not just what they say - that matters when it comes to both the BRT and DROP.