On an end-of-term day in City Council that saw moving farewells to four departing Members, Council approved historic reforms to the real estate tax abatement law and a ban on single-use plastic bags, and a handful of other important bills impacting property taxes, community economic development agreements, and public health efforts to remediate a lingering problem on bed bugs in Philadelphia.
Historic Reform to the Tax Abatement
After a year of debate and research on abatement legislation, and a growing public clamor for action on the issue, Council voted unanimously Thursday to approve Bill No. 190944-A, which “phases down” the residential tax abatement by 10 percent annual increments over the next decade.
The reform bill, led by Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District) and ultimately supported by every member of Council, marks the first significant reform to the controversial tax abatement that is credited with having helped spark a boom of building, development, new housing and new residents, particularly in downtown neighborhoods, over the past 20 years.
In an exchange of letters last week, Mayor Jim Kenney and Council President Clarke agreed to the basic parameters of the reform bill, which will take effect on Dec. 31, 2020. The longish lead time will give developers with residential construction deals in the pipeline time to get their deals to the finish line before the abatement reform takes effect.
— Laura McCrystal (@LMcCrystal) December 12, 2019
Research conducted by Council staff last summer, and audited by the consulting firm Econsult, predicts that the phase-down of the residential abatement could generate up to $275 million – with 55 percent of that going to schools and school children – over the next decade.
“Today is the first change that we’ve seen, unique in the history of a 20-year program,” Councilmember Helen Gym (At Large), who opposed the abatement, said before the vote. All Councilmembers voted for the reform, which Mayor Kenney said last week he would sign.
The proposed change to the abatement would not impact abatements on commercial real estate projects or rehabilitations of existing residences. Clarke told reporters after the vote that the commercial abatement is a jobs-generator, and other Councilmembers say that the rehabilitation tax abatement can spur investment in outlying city neighborhoods that need it.
In a second, key vote on property tax reform, Council approved Bill No. 190943 introduced by Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District) that will increase the city’s existing Homestead Exemption for homeowners by an additional $5,000. 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 taxes, through no fault of their own,” said Council President Clarke, explaining the rationale for the Homestead Exemption increase.
The homestead exemption increase bill now goes to Mayor Kenney. At a hearing on the legislation two weeks ago, administration officials said they supported the homestead increase in theory, but preferred to negotiate it during the annual budget process next spring.
A Reform on Plastic Bags – Long Time Coming
Legislation that will encourage reusable bags and reduce single-use plastic bags in Philadelphia received final approval in Council, the culmination of a decade-long effort to pass this environmental protection reform.
The effort to move Bill No. 190610-A to reduce the use of plastic bags at retail and other stores was led by Councilmember Mark Squilla (1st District), who pursued this reform to passage after hearing from both environmentalists as well as the retail shopping industry with a wide array of views.
“Today’s passage of my ‘Bring Your Own bag’ legislation is historic for the City of Philadelphia,” Councilmember Squilla said in a news release. “It has been a long process and I am pleased to do my part to improve the environment for generations of Philadelphians to come. We need to stop being a disposable society and strive to become a re-useable society.”
Last week, Councilmember Squilla offered an amendment that will extend the reach of the legislation to include more plastic bags, but still keep out a fee on paper bags that some in Council objected to as a burden on lower-income consumers.
“Although fees are never desirable, studies have shown they reduce single use bags,” Councilmember Squilla said. “In the next session, I will continue working with my Council colleagues and all stakeholders on a solution that’s best for our City’s environment.”
Bed Bug Remediation Bill Approved
In another reform championed by Councilmember Squilla, bed bug remediation legislation was approved which makes it clear who has responsibility for ensuring apartments and residences are clear of bed bugs – landlords or tenants.
Squilla’s Bill No. 190106-A requires landlords to pay the costs of remediating bug infestations if discovered during the first year of a tenancy. After a year, landlords and tenants will split the costs. Philadelphia has a significant problem with bed bug infestation, and Squilla entertained a wide spectrum of opinions from landlords and advocates for tenants as he crafted this bill.
Community Benefits Agreement Brings A Framework to Economic Development
In legislation championed by Council President Clarke, Council also approved a new framework for community benefits agreements – vehicles by which developers pay benefits to communities for the privilege of doing large-scale developments in their neighborhoods.
Bill No. 190553 is intended to create a framework and bring guidance to a process that previously has been ad hoc – what will developers do for a community in exchange for the community’s support as large-scale economic developments take place in their areas.
Home Gun Check Initiative Continues This Weekend
Continuing a novel gun violence reduction initiative that showed early signs of success last week, Council and community anti-violence advocates are continuing to promote a “home gun checks” effort which encourages citizens to turn in illegal or unauthorized guns at designated safe-space locations around the city, no questions asked.
Spearheaded by Council President Clarke, with support from Councilmembers Johnson and Curtis Jones, Jr. (4th District), the Philadelphia Police Department, and anti-violence advocates, the home gun checks initiative began last weekend at churches in Germantown and West Philadelphia. A number of guns were turned in anonymously – including two loaded handguns.
This Saturday, December 14, the home gun checks effort will be operating at two locations:
|Taylor Memorial Baptist Church
3817 Germantown Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19140
|Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church
419 S. 6th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Gun violence continues to plague Philadelphia – particularly shootings involving young people. In 2019 thus far, 107 people under the age of 18 have been shot. more than 1,380 people have been shot in the city this year, over 335 fatally.
Graphic text: Save a Life. Turn in a Gun. Safe firearms disposal locations. December 14, 2019, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Taylor Memorial Baptist Church, 3817 Germantown Ave, Philadelphia PA 19140
Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 419 S 6th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147
No questions asked. Call 215-667-9870 for more information.
Fond Farewell to Four Councilmembers
The emotional highlight of the final session of Council’s term was the farewell to four members who will not return in January. At Large Members Blondell Reynolds Brown, Bill Greenlee and Al Taubenberger, joined by longtime Councilmember Jannie Blackwell (3rd District), received long rounds of heartfelt applause and comments from their colleagues. Three of the departing members offered final remarks (Councilmember Reynolds Brown spoke last week).
The overarching theme was gratitude for the opportunity to do public service for the people of Philadelphia.
“I am grateful,” Councilmember Blackwell said simply, before thanking a multitude of allies, staff and members for their support.
“I was so fortunate,” Councilmember Greenlee said, recounting a 40-year career in City Hall, first as a staffer to Councilmember David Cohen, then as a member in his own right.
“I walk away today a wiser man,” said Councilmember Taubenberger.
In a gracious note, Mayor Kenney, a longtime Councilmember before being elected mayor, came back to the 4th floor and personally wished each of his former colleagues well.
Council President Clarke sent a farewell message to the four members, copies of which were distributed to all of Council, saying “they have served this body and our city’s residents with integrity, commitment and dedication.”
— Darrell Clarke (@Darrell_Clarke) December 12, 2019
Inside the Rail …
Both Grady and Feder, well-respected public officials, spoke in separate remarks of how important it was to them to serve the public in their respective capacities – in Grady’s case through job-creating economic developments, in Feder’s case through legal counsel to City Council members and the Mayor on the legality of all of their legislative proposals.
“I wanted to serve the public good, not private selfish interests,” Feder said. …
The next Stated Meeting of City Council – the Inauguration of a new Council – will take place on January 6, 2020. It will take place at the Met Philadelphia on North Broad Street. The Weekly Report from City Council will not publish during the next several weeks, but a new issue will live here on phlcouncil.com before the New Year.