The cartoon villain Board of Revision of Taxes (BRT) took questions from City Council today at an especially awkward budget hearing.
Council is moving to slash BRT salaries from $70,000 a year to $150 a day and citizens are heading to the polls May 18 to vote on whether to abolish the board entirely. But today, everyone had to pretend to focus on civil-service tests and housing reassessments.
On new requirements that the BRT’s patronage employees be required to take a civil-service test like every other city employee, BRT Chairwoman Charlesretta Meade said: “They’ve worked hard over the years; they’ve been slandered for being committee people; they’ve been slandered by the media for participating in the democratic process.”
Unfortunately, PhillyNow's Randy LoBasso is currently in possession of the world’s smallest violin, so we can't treat her to a sweet serenade.
Of 80 BRT patronage employees, 44 have passed a civil-service test and 10 have vacated their jobs since the requirement was put in place last fall.
Councilmen Bill Green and Wilson Goode then took turns politely berating the board on property reassessments. Green has expressed annoyance in the past about the mayor-ordered moratorium on reassessing housing values, which he claims will cost the city $225 million over the next five years. At particular issue is a list of 380,000 residential reassessments that the BRT has already finished and allegedly verified to at least 80% accuracy, which meets what are apparently quite lax international assessment standards.
Rather than use the new numbers, BRT prefers to wait 18 months until a fancy computer system to evaluate properties is in place to help reassess the entire city in one swoop. We find this curious since the Board members are unlikely to still have jobs by then.
“You can make the system more fair and you’re refusing to do so,” Green said.
When Goode asked who had the authority to declare a moratorium on property assessments, the question was met with silence.
“Is there a moratorium now?” Goode pressed, inferring that since the board had let lapse the memorandum of understanding they now had the power to continue or not continue the moratorium at their discretion.
“Do you feel like you’re fulfilling your duty?” Green asked.
Finally, Meade declared that the BRT’s problems all stem from interference by hostile forces with interest in blocking reassessment in order to keep certain properties artificially undervalued.
To sum up: Property assessments are a steaming mess; it’s unclear whether anyone will move forward with reevaluating housing values or how that process will look; no one knows who will be running the board next fall or if it will even exist, and it’s all the fault of a. the media and b. people whose houses have been undervalued.
The Controller’s Office had its own hearing earlier but it just couldn’t live up to the BRT drama. Controller Alan Butkovitz and Council took turns congratulating the office on its work rooting out inefficiencies and saving the city money—and setting up Butkovitz for a 2015 mayoral candidacy (oops...no one actually said that part out loud).
Among the Controller’s achievements were finding hundreds of millions in unpaid taxes and water bills, uncovering a litany of abuses in the charter schools, and exposing and eradicating barriers to minority contractors bidding on city contracts.
“Our job is to follow city money wherever it goes. We need to keep up with new streams of spending,” Butkovitz said, referring to incoming federal stimulus money, which is the subject of PW's cover story this week.
The Controller recently released a new initiative called Savings & Accountability to Valuate Efficiencies (S.A.V.E.) to expand the audit processes and call for stricter performance and cost saving goals in city departments.
The BRT is a patronage-packed office (the part-time workers make $70,000 a year) that has not been able to justify, in any logical manner, their wildly inaccurate property assessments.
Seriously. We get a chance to respond in kind May 18 on a ballot measure to abolish the BRT forever. See you at the polls.
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At a time when Nutter’s support was stagnant, his milquetoast image hardening, the board offered itself up as an easily condemnable villain.
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