Councilman Brian O’Neill lost one big City Hall battle last month when his fellow Council members passed a second real-estate tax increase in as many years at the urging of Mayor Michael Nutter.
During last week’s meeting of the Fox Chase Homeowners Association and Fox Chase Town Watch, O’Neill (R-10th dist.) warned that another property-tax hike may be proposed next year when the Board of Revision of Taxes implements its long-planned Full Value Project.
Not coincidentally, O’Neill noted, this year’s mayoral and Council elections will be over by then.
“It could be three straight years of real-estate tax increases,” O’Neill said. “It’s going to be up to homeowners to really lash out about it.”
Faced with a projected nine-figure operating deficit during the fiscal 2011 budget negotiations in May 2010, Nutter and Council imposed what they labeled a “temporary” 9.99-percent property-tax increase. The hike was intended to pump an additional $86 million into the budget each year for two years (fiscal 2011 and 2012).
But during the recently completed fiscal 2012 budget process, Council and Nutter raised property taxes again, this time to fund the city’s financially strapped public school district. The 3.85-percent hike also is supposed to be a temporary one, lasting just one year and generating a projected $37 million for public schools.
O’Neill was among a handful of Council members to oppose both tax increases. Now, he says, some in city government are looking to keep the new revenue flowing by manipulating the Full Value Project.
Now, the mayor and some Council members are saying the city cannot lose the $86 million and the $37 million, O’Neill told the Fox Chase groups.
The Full Value Project is an effort by the Board of Revision of Taxes to simplify and standardize the way properties are assessed and taxed.
Under the current system, property owners pay taxes on only a fraction of the actual market values of their homes or businesses. The standard property-tax rate — as set by Council — is then applied to the modified assessments to determine the tax liabilities for each property.
Under the new system, property assessments will be higher across the board (equal to the full market value), so the standard tax rate will be lowered. Only Council has the power to change the rate.
For years, BRT officials and advocates for the Full Value Project have said that the project should be designed as “revenue neutral,” meaning that the total revenue generated for the city by property taxes should remain the same under the new system (although many individual property owners will end up paying more while others will pay less).
But according to O’Neill, some in city government want the new tax rate to be set based on the new revenue levels, thereby making the recently approved “temporary” tax hikes permanent ones.
O’Neill did not specify at the Fox Chase meeting which Council members have proposed the controversial scenario.
“If (the Full Value Project) isn’t revenue neutral, then it becomes a back-door tax increase, and nobody voted for a back-door tax increase,” O’Neill said.
Ironically, according to the councilman, the two temporary tax increases passed by Council and approved by Nutter in the last two budget cycles were the first two property-tax hikes of any kind in the city since 1991. And they have come in the midst of a deep economic recession, when homeowners and business operators can least afford to pay the extra cash.
• In other news, freshman state Rep. Kevin Boyle told Fox Chase residents about several issues he’s been working on since being sworn into office in January.
Boyle (D-172nd) met with the administration of the Fox Chase Cancer Center as a follow-up to the hospital’s unsuccessful campus-expansion effort.
The hospital failed to win approval for construction in neighboring Burholme Park, Boyle said, but it remains a valuable asset to the community with the 2,400 jobs it provides. Boyle was encouraged by recent news reports that the hospital is discussing a possible affiliation with the Temple University Health System.
In Harrisburg, Boyle wants to start cracking down on large-scale absentee property owners throughout the city. He is drafting a bill that, if passed into law, would require all landlords with multiple rental properties to list a manager on their property records.
Under the current system, many large-scale landlords list only a corporation with an out-of-state post office box as the only contact. This makes it tough for local authorities to enforce code violations and issue fines.
In an unrelated issue, Boyle reported that he voted against the state’s recently passed fiscal 2012 operating budget for two reasons: He was against severe cuts to higher-education funding, and he opposed the absence of a severance tax on natural-gas companies that drill in Pennsylvania’s shale regions.
• The next meeting of the Fox Chase Homeowners Association and Fox Chase Town Watch will be at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14, at American Legion Post 366, 7976 Oxford Ave. ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org