Council bill challenges Nutter’s property tax plan

A Philadelphia city councilman is challenging Mayor Michael Nutter’s plan to reassess property values in the city and generate an extra $90 million in property taxes.

Mark Squilla has introduced a bill which would keep property taxes where they are for the next year, postponing the dramatic overhaul of the city’s real estate tax system which Nutter hopes to implement this year.

Squilla is a Council freshman whose district includes parts of South Philadelphia, Center City and the river wards where property values have risen.

“We’ve seen a big increase in property values,” Squilla said after introducing his bill at Thursday’s Council session. “And when you see that increase in values, we feel that the people are going to be hit really hard once the assessment goes into place,” he said.

The new property assessments won’t be finished until the fall, but Nutter wants Council to enact a bill this spring which would require the city to set tax rates based on the new assessments to generate set revenue targets.

Those targets would amount to about an 8.6 percent increase in property tax revenues overall, worth $90 million in new money for the school district.

Many Council members call that a tax increase. Nutter says the rates are effectively staying the same, but that the city will get more revenue from rising property values.

When told of Squilla’s proposal at an event Thursday, Nutter said he understands Council members are in a difficult position.

“This is a tough one. I get it. I understand that,” Nutter said. “We all need to just kind of bite the bullet and do what needs to be done to create a fair, equitable and accurate tax-assessment system.”

Squilla said the problem is that because the assessments won’t be finished for months, residents don’t know what kind of tax bills to expect, and Council members can’t tell them before they vote on property tax rates for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

In a speech on the Council floor, Squilla said there are too many uncertainties for Council to enact Nutter’s plan.

“My mother always told me never dive into water if you can’t see the bottom,” Squilla said. “And I’m not willing to take that dip into the millage pool until we know how deep the assessments are.”

Council starts debating the tax proposals next week.

Elizabeth Fiedler contributed to this report.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.