WHYY’s Dave Heller spoke with Mayor Michael Nutter about the latest economic data for Philadelphia, the Board of Revision of Taxes and the decisions by other city officials to take or not to take voluntary pay cuts.
WHYY’s Dave Heller spoke with Mayor Michael Nutter about the latest economic data for Philadelphia, the Board of Revision of Taxes and the decisions by other city officials to take or not to take voluntary pay cuts. [audio: reports20090127heller-nutter.mp3]
Dave Heller: Good morning, Mayor.
Mayor Nutter: How are you?
DH: Fine. We just heard colleagues at the county level calling on Harrisburg to provide needed funding but Governor Rendell in turn is hoping for money from Washington. So while everyone is waiting for that trickle down, you met last night with a board of advisers. Tell us about that PhillyStat meeting.
MN: Well that meeting is the first in a series of PhillyStat sessions laying out what the true economic condition is for Philadelphia. Not just our city budget but there’s a larger, broader picture that the public needs to understand, about the issues of poverty as they affect Philadelphia and unemployment and educational attainment. All of those issues are factors in our financial picture as well. So we’re embarked on an extensive public information, education and outreach process so that Philadelphians better understand the financial condition of the city and why we have to take some of the steps we do given the international economic crisis hit us just like every other city across America.
DH: Tell us more information about what you believe is up to $180 million that can be found if the Board of Revision of Taxes does their job.
MN: Well, that’s an issues of the number of assessments that are actually done and if you look at the historical average or even the law it will show that the BRT in any other year does hundreds of thousands of reassessments, which they’re supposed to do. The issue that they’ve raised is that they’re trying to convert to a new system so that all of [their] staff time is devoted to that. From my perspective, you have to be able to do more than one thing at a time and all of those folks can’t be involved in the switchover but the end result is the city gets less money because properties are not being assessed annually as they’re supposed to and that has a financial impact for the city as well.
DH: But gosh, if closing pools proved unpopular, how do you charge more of home owners in the face of declining property values let along the overall recession?
MN: It’s not a matter of charging more. It’s a matter of everyone paying their fair share of the actual value of their property. The problem is, the Board of Revision of Taxes for years, if not decades, has been undervaluing properties and most home owners in Philadelphia know that they’re not paying what they should in terms of the actual value of their property. Even with the current real estate market, many Philadelphians have enjoyed appreciation over many, many years for which the Board of Revision Taxes system has not kept up, so I’m only asking people to pay what their actual value is, what they actually owe but the Board of Revision of Taxes has to do their job as a part of this process as well.
DH: Sounds like part of President Obama’s call one week ago today for all of us to do our part and you started a trend with the announcement that you’d cut your salary by 10%. Some took that leap but if my calculations are right, nine members of City Council making at least $112 grand a year have not responded to the challenge. They’re apparently part of a Philadelphia Daily News Hall of Shame.
MN: Well, I did see that in the paper and you know, look, I can only speak for myself and for what I thought was the right thing to do as the leader of this city. I try to provide leadership in a variety of ways but ultimately, they’re independently elected officials. They’re elected by the public and they have to use their judgment in terms of the next steps that they take. Every little bit helps and I’m not saying that my, cutting my salary 10 percent is going to solve all of our financial woes but it all adds up and I think the public wants to know that everyone is doing everything that they can. This is one component of many steps that need to be taken.
DH: Do Philadelphia residents need to be patient or do you see anything resembling a short turnaround. I’m not talking about days or weeks but months or even 2009 and I need you to be brief in your answer, please.
MN: Yeah, this economic crisis is going to last for some time. That’s what the president says. That’s what his economic advisors say and so I think you’re looking at all of 2009 and more than likely a good portion of 2010. This is going to take a while to work our way out of and everyone is going to have to sacrifice.
DH: Thank you so much for stopping by this morning.
MN: Thank you.
DH: Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter on WHYY’s Morning Edition.