HOUSE CLEANING: Mayor To Reform BRT, Slowly


UPDATE: Mayor Nutter called on all seven members of the Board of Revision of Taxes to resign this morning, and sent two bills to City Council that would eliminate the $70,000-plus salaries of future board members and bring a large portion of the agency’s funding under the mayor’s direct control. MORE

INQUIRER:  Mayor Nutter and City Council President Anna C. Verna declared yesterday that they intend to “reform, restructure or dissolve” the city’s independent Board of Revision of Taxes, which sets property values in Philadelphia. Citing Inquirer reports that have raised questions about the quality of the agency’s work and undue political influence on property assessments, Nutter said, “There must and there will be significant change.”The issues that have been raised in recent news accounts represent a culture that is unacceptable in our city government,” Nutter said at a City Hall news conference. “Not only do Philadelphians deserve a tax assessment that is fair and accurate, they must also have faith and trust in the people who operate that system.”

The mayor declined to offer a timeline for potential changes and said he was not ready to announce publicly what ought to happen. Any effort would by necessity require at least many months, even a year or more. Restructuring or dissolving the BRT would require changing the City Charter, a lengthy process that culminates in a public vote. The earliest that could happen, one councilman predicted, was next May. MORE

RELATED: Tax Travesty [The Complete Series]

RELATED:  Property values may be inaccurate and inconsistent throughout the city, but Mayor Nutter nevertheless yesterday pushed forward his effort to gain support for his two-year increase in property taxes. Numbers released last week offer little to no assurance that Philadelphia’s decades-old system for assessing real estate is fair and equitable. The data show some homes are deeply undervalued, others overvalued. “Obviously, we need to try to fix the system as quickly as possible,” the mayor said. But Nutter said that was a problem for another day — one perhaps not far away. MORE

RELATED: For two hours Monday, Enrico “Ricky” Foglia sat quietly as City Council members grilled his pals at the Board of Revision of Taxes (BRT), the patronage farm where party hacks eat high on the hog. Foglia, a pinky-ring-wearing doppelganger for The Sopranos‘ Uncle Junior, is BRT executive director. In the real world, fancy titles are bestowed upon the educated and qualified. But this is Philadelphia, so Foglia is neither. Here, a high school grad who goes way back with the Democratic Party boss, earns nearly $100,000 as a glorified payroll clerk. In the nation’s sixth largest city, the CEO of the independent government agency charged with the monumental task of setting tax values for 577,700 properties can’t even legally appraise a one-room shack. MORE

RELATED: The Board of Revision of Taxes must die. It can’t be fixed by any blue-ribbon commission or even a federal investigation. Firing the executive director won’t cut it – though that’s a good start. Replacing the seven-member board doesn’t go far enough – though they also must go. No, the agency that sets property values in Philadelphia and handles all appeals must be blown up once and for all. A new agency needs to be created with independent professionals and qualified assessors, not overpaid, political-party hacks. The agency needs to be accountable to the mayor, not to a backroom cabal of judges and two party bosses. After all, it is 2009 — high time Philadelphia stopped operating like the “corrupt and contented” town that Lincoln Steffens wrote about more than a century ago. MORE

PHAWKER: Here, here! When did the Inquirer editorial board grow a pair?

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