Inquirer: BRT members sue Phila. to preserve their agency

Inquirer: BRT members sue Phila. to preserve their agency

In a last-ditch effort to preserve Philadelphia’s Board of Revision of Taxes, five board members filed suit against the city this week, asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to halt the dismantling of the embattled agency.

In the May 18 primary election, Philadelphia voters are scheduled to determine the BRT’s fate. The ballots will ask voters’ permission to abolish the agency effective Oct. 1 and replace it with two new entities: one to set property assessments, the other to hear appeals of those assessments.

If the state Supreme Court approves, the BRT’s suit would take that question off the ballot, preserving the property-assessment status quo for at least a while longer.

As documented by Inquirer reports, the BRT has presided over an assessment system that is among the most inaccurate and inequitable in the nation.

The suit contends that the city lacks the authority to completely dismantle the seven-member board. It argues that the state legislature specifically vested assessment appeals powers with the BRT, and required that BRT leaders be appointed by the city’s judiciary.

By proposing to abolish the BRT, the city has “usurped the legislature’s power” and “usurped the established exercise of independent judicial power,” the suit contends.

Attorneys William P. Murphy and Howard K. Goldstein, who filed the suit on the BRT members’ behalf, declined to comment. Board member Robert N.C. Nix III, who speaks on the board’s behalf, did not return a message seeking comment.

Until now, the BRT had seemed to be quietly moving toward inevitable dissolution.

The board, which is appointed by the city’s judiciary, voluntarily handed over day-to-day control of property assessments to the Nutter administration in November. The mayor named Rich Negrin, a senior Aramark attorney, to lead the BRT’s assessment employees, and to prepare them for the transition to a new agency.

Only the board, and not Negrin’s unit, is involved in the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the board has continued to consider assessment appeals, but that job, too, would grind to a near halt next year. Mayor Nutter has ordered a two-year freeze on reassessments, to give the city time to generate accurate assessments.

“They’ve turned over all their assessing functions to Rich Negrin and the mayor’s office. There’s not going to be any appeals next year. It’s not clear what they’re fighting for, other than the right to get paid,” said Councilman Bill Green, who sponsored the legislation that would abolish the BRT with voter approval.

At $70,000 a year for part-time work, a job on the Board of Revision of Taxes is one of the most desirable public-service plums in Philadelphia.

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