Constituents ask Cindy Bass about AVI, disability initiatives and quality of life issues over coffee

Reflecting the diversity of her district, residents brought a variety of concerns to a “Coffee with the Councilwoman” last Friday in Germantown.

When he spoke to Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass at Wired Beans Cafe, Tim Smigelski of Germantown had on his mind a topic shared with virtually every property-owner in the city: the Actual Value Initiative, or AVI, the results of which were released in recent weeks.

Smigelski said his estimated payments “ballooned,” with his potential tax liability increasing by 60-to-80 percent on both his primary residence and additional rental properties.

Beyond this, he was concerned about the assessments themselves, noting that a property bought five years ago for $45,000 now assessed at $187,000.

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He suggested that he might have unwittingly created this dilemma for himself: Smigelski related that he and a partner spruced up several homes on his block, creating a neighborhood enclave with rising neighborhood property values. He understood the need for fairness and equity, but would prefer a graduated rise if taxes are again raised.

“It would be nice if they could phase it in,” he said. “Now, it’s like the crack of boom.”

Questioning AVI-assessment accuracy

Asked if he felt Bass was responsive about his concerns related to AVI, Smigelski said “I think so.”

He noted that the councilwoman was looking at the tax-rate multiplier, but expressed worry that the accuracy of the AVI assessments are not getting the attention he feels that they deserve.

“The multiplier, fine, whatever you guys come up with, make it fair and equitable,” he said. “But I think the problem is that assessments might be a little too aggressive.”

Smigelski said that he plans to appeal his assessment, and will try to organize his neighbors to do the same, noting that some already have trouble paying their bills currently and will be inordinately affected by AVI. He’d like to enlist the help of local politicians as well.

“I’d like to see what they can do and see if they can ease up on us,” he said. “I don’t know if I impressed it upon [Bass], but I doubt they’re going to put the brakes upon the whole thing just because Tim showed up.”

25 constituents in 2.5 hours 

An initiative of Councilwoman Bass since her election in 2011, “Coffee with the Councilwoman” allows her and her staff to “make sure they’re out in the community,” said Bass’ spokesperson Joseph Corrigan.

After a brief sabbatical in the fall, Corrigan said that they hope to host these sessions with some regularity before the beginning of budget season, offering residents a chance to express their concerns without having to go to City Hall.

For Bass and her staff, it’s an opportunity to get outside the “Center City bubble.”

“Constituents are glad to see their councilwoman out in the community,” he said. “It’s not very often that residents can come out to a local coffee shop and express their concerns.”

On Friday, Bass spoke to approximately 25 people in two and half hours, a figure that Corrigan was pleased with given the event’s time – Friday afternoon – and the day’s dim meteorological prospects. While many came with substantive concerns, others offered a quick word of greeting or support.

“That’s the job,” he said. “It never ends.” 

A wide range of topics 

While Smigelski’s issue had the broadest impact in terms of policy, others residents came with requests equally near and dear to them.

Resident Vivian Nix-Early made a pitch for the Germantown Artists Roundtable. Nix-Early said that Bass was very receptive to her idea and supportive of the arts, and that Bass accepted an offering of letters asking for renewed municipal support for arts funding.

Alice Foley of Germantown is involved in disability issues.

With Bass being on Council’s Disabled and Special Needs Committee, Foley came to see what the councilwoman is up to regarding this topic and lend her support. While no bills are currently pending, Foley offered her assistance and volunteered to help place temporary workers in the city’s Parks and Recreation program.

Cleous Young of North Philadelphia came to promote an anti-bullying initiative that he is behind, and sought to acquire the councilwoman’s blessing and participation in the community wide project.

Young said that Bass would look into possibly funding the project with a city activity grant.

Southwest Germantown stalwart Allison Weiss came seeking redress to several quality of life problems in her area, including discarded tires along Wayne Avenue, the state of demolished properties and the potential for developing partnerships for beautifying neighborhood corridors.

Weiss said the councilwoman was amenable to her suggestions, which Weiss felt would cost little money.

“It’s a no brainer,” she said. “It’s about finding the right person to find the right form.”

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