Well-known Northwest Philadelphians publicly weighed in against AVI prior to delay

Prior to a budget comprise being reached, while Philadelphia City Council was still debating how to handle Mayor Michael Nutter’s Actual Value Initiative (AVI) property tax proposal, a pair of well-known Northwest Philadelphians made their opinions clear before legislators took a break in proceedings Thursday afternoon.

Both James Foster, the publisher of Germantown Newspapers Inc. who ran for Eighth District City Council, and Richard Snowden, the most prominent developer in Chestnut Hill, railed against the controversial plan reportedly designed to raise $94 million in school funding.

Their reasons for doing so, which were voiced during the regular council meeting’s public-comment portion, varied.

Foster posed it as “one of the most significant [issues] in Philadelphia in many years,” one that would chase residents away if rushed into. Snowden noted that it could decimate development, as well as result in layoffs.

Fear of residential flight

Handing out copies of his “20 Percent Solution” to people sitting near him in chambers, Foster urged all 17 council members to get on a bus in their district, ride it until just outside the city limits and hop a return bus back into Philadelphia.

“When you return, you’ll see [the remains] of what made Philadelphia great,” he said, citing empty plots, makeshift dumping grounds and abandoned buildings which pay no real-estate or business taxes and offer no jobs for residents.

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Richard Snowden

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James Foster

While other Pennsylvania municipalities declined because of the crumbling of a single industry, Foster blamed Philadelphia’s loss of diverse businesses on the politics “from 1968 forward that taxed them out of town.”

“Now you’re running out of people to tax. [AVI] will cut to the marrow of the bone. Hundreds of thousands will leave in short order,” he continued, noting that a competitive property tax is what makes residents stay but, if Council hastily approved AVI, “they will not stick around.”

After his three minutes were up, and the microphone turned off, Foster went on, urging council members to delay an AVI decision and collect delinquent taxes from deadbeats.

The developer/landlord perspective

Speaking a few minutes later, Snowden presented his bona fides numerically: 65 buildings along the Germantown Avenue corridor, 160 apartments, 35 employees and $3.5 million reinvested in Northwest Philadelphia last year.

“For the first time in 31 years [in this business], I’m pessimistic about Philadelphia’s prospects for the future,” he said, citing a “blatant disregard for home owners and businesses who invest in the future of the city.”

He said he recently sent word to tenants that they could “expect, in 2013, enormous rent increases that many residents cannot afford” while maintaining that he could be faced with laying employees off and curtailing any reinvestment because of AVI’s impact.

“All so the city may receive its 30 pieces of silver,” said Snowden, predicting the potential of “rolling mortgage defaults further eroding our vibrant community [and residents who would] move several blocks away, into Montgomery County. Where will this end?”

Like Foster, he urged Council to delay any AVI approval until they have had more time to investigate and research its implications.

After taking a brief recess, City Council was scheduled to reconvene around 3 p.m. Thursday to discuss the AVI-related bills.

Bass reacts to AVI delay

Later Thursday, Council settled on a budget compromise which pushed AVI off for a year and provided less than half of the school funding Nutter had sought.

“I would have liked to have seen more funding for the schools, because it’s critical for many reasons,” Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass said Thursday night. “However, the budget that advanced from committee this evening is the best compromise among members representing diverse interests and constituencies.”

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