Philly councilman seeks delay on implementing new tax approach

Three letters have been dominating Philadelphia politics recently: AVI.

Short for actual value initiative, it’s Mayor Michael Nutter’s plan to tax properties in the city in a way that actually reflects their market value while raising an additional $94 million for the ailing school district.

On its face, it sounds straightforward. Dig a little deeper and things get messy.

City Council needs to vote on the plan before the city’s new fiscal year begins July 1, but the mayor’s property assessors won’t submit their numbers until well after that.

Councilman Bill Green says this is like having a real-estate agent tell you, “You can have this house at a price that I’ll determine one month after you move in.”

Freshman Councilman Mark Squilla’s solution is to delay implementing the new system until next year.

“I believe that AVI is an initiative that has to be done. I believe in fair taxation, but I believe we’re doing it wrong,” said Squilla. “And I think that it’s time for us to wake up and realize if you don’t have the information to make a proper decision, then you should not make that decision.”

The Nutter Administration maintains that the measure must be passed this year for two reasons.

One is that the school district badly needs the money. Secondly, a ruling by the state tax equalization board has already left the city vulnerable to losing $40 million if property owners appeal their outdated assessments. If AVI does not pass, Nutter’s office expects these potential losses to skyrocket.

As an alternative, Squilla suggests enacting a separate tax hike to aid the school district and petition the state Legislature to give one more year to bring assessments up to date.

No date is set for a vote on Squilla’s proposal.

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