After months of debate, other bills and studies of the city’s real estate tax abatement program, legislation was introduced in Council yesterday to amend the abatement by a “phase down” approach that will reduce it by 10 percent annual increments over the next decade.
The proposed change in the abatement law, introduced by Councilmember Cindy Bass (8th District) on behalf of Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District), focuses exclusively on the construction of new residential dwellings on vacant land.
The legislation is the product of months of research and collaboration among Council staff, Councilmembers, Mayor Kenney and his administration, and other stakeholders. The proposed changes to the abatement law would not impact abatements on commercial real estate projects or rehabilitations of existing residences in neighborhoods.
After the bill was introduced, Council President Clarke said the change in the abatement law can be expected to generate “anywhere from $200 million to $300 million over the next decade” in additional tax revenues – which will go towards needed city services and the School District of Philadelphia.
“We need to interject more equity” into the abatement system in Philadelphia, is how Clarke described the effort. “We’ve done a lot of work on this, and we’re trying to be fair. This bill is a framework.”
Earlier in the session, Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District) introduced a companion bill that would increase the city’s existing Homestead Exemption for homeowners by an additional $5,000. The exemption is currently set at $45,000 and would increase to $50,000 if the bill is approved. It would impact an estimated 220,000 eligible homeowners and cost the city approximately $15 million per year.
“We need to do something for homeowners who are experiencing rising property values, and higher property assessments and taxes, through no fault of their own,” Council President Clarke said, explaining the rationale for the Homestead Exemption increase legislation.
The abatement change legislation – long sought by housing advocates, members of Council and other stakeholders – will now receive a public hearing, likely sometime immediately after Thanksgiving. Council has two remaining public meetings this year in December, and Council President Clarke’s goal is to see the abatement and homestead exemption bills voted on before Council’s term ends next month.
“We’re working collaboratively with all Councilmembers, the Mayor and all interested stakeholders to find common ground on important reforms to the tax abatement policy in Philadelphia,” Clarke said.
“Earlier this year, I introduced similar legislation,” said Councilmember Gym. “I support and co-sponsor this collective Council effort. As our city changes, the tools we use to encourage economic development have to change with it. Our communities demand it – our schools need it. It’s time.”
Council Approves Bill Prohibiting Guns at City Rec Centers and Playgrounds
Council today approved a Safe Havens law designed to keep guns and other deadly weapons out of city recreation centers and playgrounds, where a number of shooting incidents have marred these peaceful places where children and adults recreate and play.
The Safe Havens law, originally introduced by Councilmember Bass on Council President Clarke’s behalf, requires enabling authorization from state government to become effective, because of a pre-emption law in Harrisburg governing firearms. Legislators from Philadelphia – Rep. Donna Bullock (195th District) and Sen. Vincent Hughes (7th District) – are working on getting enabling language approved. The state’s pro-gun sentiment outside of Philadelphia makes this a significant challenge, something which Council President Clarke alluded to yesterday after the Safe Havens law passed.
“We’re working with the state hopefully to get enabling legislation passed,” Clarke said. “We cannot sit by and not do anything. We have to hope Harrisburg realizes the importance of saving children’s lives at playgrounds. If they can’t see the wisdom in that, then heaven help us.”
Commercial business corridors street cleaning bill approved
Council also approved a series of midyear budget transfer ordinances yesterday to fund various city projects and initiatives supported by Council and the Mayor’s Office. One is a $10 million program to fund the cleaning of neighborhood business corridors citywide, sponsored by Councilmember Cherelle Parker (9th District), and modeled on a successful, similar street-cleaning effort in her Northwest Philadelphia district.
The citywide effort, called PHL Taking Care of Business, will be a collaborative effort involving the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) and non-profit entities that will clean the neighborhood business corridors. Parker has estimated each Council district’s business corridors may hire up to 40 part-time workers to regularly clean the corridors, in jobs paying a living wage with health benefits. The effort has the support of Mayor Kenney, Council, and also the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia.
Councilmember Urges Re-use of South Philadelphia Refinery be Environmentally-Safe
A resolution from Councilmember Blondell Reynolds Brown (At Large) was approved yesterday, urging the city to support proposals to re-use the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery that align with the city’s goals to improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect the health and safety of all Philadelphians.
Councilmember Reynolds Brown’s resolution presaged a public hearing scheduled for today, November 22nd, in Council where the Joint Committee on the Environment and Legislative Oversight will consider “options for the future of the refinery complex.”
Inside the Rail …
After yesterday’s Council meeting, Councilmember Bill Greenlee (At Large) will have just two more public sessions in Council, since he is retiring at year’s end.
A quietly effective progressive member of City Council, Greenlee is perhaps best-known for his steadfast work over a number of years to see a Paid Sick Leave ordinance approved by Council – after several attempts blocked by the business community and prior mayoral administrations. The ordinance was enacted and is now Philadelphia law.
Yesterday, for these and many other progressive efforts on behalf of Philadelphians, Greenlee was honored before Council by a large group of advocates for progressive causes. A large crowd in Council’s caucus room stood and applauded Greenlee after he received the award.
In Caucus today, several local organizations including @PathWaysPA @domesticworkers @CLSphila surprised my friend and colleague @BillGreenlee215 to thank him for his DECADES of work on progressive legislation. #paidsickleave #wagetheft #genderequity #toomanytolist pic.twitter.com/LUsCJe1qxu
— Darrell Clarke (@Darrell_Clarke) November 21, 2019
With Thanksgiving next Thursday, Nov. 28, there is no Council meeting. The next Stated Meeting of City Council will be Thursday, Dec. 5, at 10 a.m. in Council Chambers on the 4th floor at City Hall. Your next Weekly Report from City Council will be Friday, Dec. 6.