A PLAN FOR VIRTUAL SHERIFF SALES TRIGGERS STRONG RESPONSE FROM CITY COUNCIL
With many Philadelphia homeowners struggling with financial problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a plan by the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office to make sheriff sales of delinquent properties a virtual process is prompting a sharp response in City Council.
When Council’s Majority Leader Cherelle L. Parker (9th District) learned of the Sheriff’s Office’s plans to make sheriff sales virtual – from the news media – Parker wrote a letter, signed by multiple Councilmembers, to Sheriff Rochelle Bilal, requesting answers to many questions.
Parker followed her letter up with a resolution introduced in Council on Thursday, asking a host of questions about the virtual sales – capped by this observation: “It is critical to understand just how much the pace (of the sales) will increase and whether the promise of increased profitability will benefit prior owners.”
“If the process changes too much and too quickly,” Parker’s resolution stated, “this could accelerate and exacerbate negative trends such as homeowner displacement, neighborhood instability, and a proliferation of investor-owned rental properties.”
A spokesperson for Sheriff Bilal backtracked somewhat this week, saying the office now intended to run the virtual sheriff sales as a pilot project, not as a permanent change, and would evaluate its effectiveness as the year unfolds.
Councilmember Parker announced in Council that her questions about the plan remained, and that the Committee on Law & Government will move forward with a hearing scheduled for April 21st at 1 PM. She encouraged interested parties to contact her office at (215) 686-3455 if they wish to testify at the hearing.
COUNCILMEMBER DOMB INTRODUCES TAX REFORMS TO GROW CITY’S TAX BASE, CREATE FAMILY-SUSTAINING JOBS
Councilmember Allan Domb (At Large) Thursday introduced a package of bills focused on reforming Philadelphia’s tax structure to create a better climate for businesses, workers and families to locate and grow in the city.
Each of the three bills introduced would change the city’s tax code by reducing the rates for the Wage Tax and Net Income Tax and eliminating the burden for businesses having to pay both the Net Income and Gross Receipts.
“Our city faces a challenging, unique moment in time,” Domb said. “We can use this moment to continue down the same path we’ve been on, or we can take bold actions to help change the trajectory of Philadelphia. Now is the time to examine what’s working and not working. We need to explore how we get the desired results we all want and need for Philadelphians.”
The reduction in Wage Tax rates for residents and non-residents would be over a 20-year period. It would reduce the resident rate from 3.8% to 2.9% and reduce the non-resident rate from 3.5% to 2.8%. The Net Income reduction would be over 10 years and cut the rate by more than half from 6.2% to 3.0%.
In addition, the legislation simplifies and reduces the tax burden on businesses by allowing them to pay the higher of either the Net Income or Gross Receipts portion of the Business Income and Receipts Tax — eliminating the requirement to pay both.
“Our present crisis will not allow us to continue to tolerate having one of the highest tax burdens among the largest U.S. cities, while having the lowest employment rate per 1,000 residents,” said Domb. “Philadelphia must become more competitive in the region and across major U.S. cities by attracting people and fostering job growth.”
Domb said the pandemic has magnified the difficulties that come with bringing back demand. Businesses are faced with staying and paying complicated and higher tax rates or moving outside the city and paying less.
The bills will be referred to the Finance Committee for hearings.
COUNCILMEMBER THOMAS ASKS HARRISBURG TO PROVIDE REGULATORY RELIEF FOR BARS, RESTAURANTS HIT HARD BY THE PANDEMIC
As Philadelphia begins to reopen, an emphasis needs to be put on Philadelphia nightlife in a way that didn’t exist before the pandemic. Councilmember Isaiah Thomas (At Large) is calling on the State Senate and House of Representatives to provide regulatory relief to local bars, restaurants and other liquor licensees that were hard-hit by business closures caused by the pandemic.
Council’s Arts and Culture Task Force recommended last month that the nightlife sector could be an amenity and tax base for Philadelphia – much more than currently. Councilmember Thomas is calling for extended bar hours and increased happy hours to allow for industry recovery, job preservation and a renewed focus on the after-hours aspects of Philadelphia’s arts and culture sector.
“We created lifelines for the hospitality sector and arts community to get through the pandemic, but we have to start to think about reopening and the long term,” Councilmember Thomas said. “We haven’t properly valued our nightlife community, but these businesses and performers are vital to our city. They create jobs, generate revenue, attract tourists and new residents and are the backbone of our cultural identity. By providing much-needed regulatory relief, we will see the return on investment from an economic and a social perspective.”
While the city was on lockdown last year, liquor-by-the-drink tax revenues declined by 23 percent — resulting in significant business closures and job loss. The majority of this tax (collected predominantly from restaurants and bars) supports the School District of Philadelphia.
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IN OTHER NEWS…
Councilmember Recognizes Black Maternal Health Week. Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At Large) introduced a resolution detailing the critical health issues facing Black mothers in the United States. Black Maternal Health Week (April 11 – 17) is a week of awareness, activism and community building intended to deepen the national conversation about Black maternal health in the country. The organization Black Mamas Matter Alliance will host the national Black Maternal Health Conference online on April 16-17. Local events will be held by the Oshun Family Center, which provides racially concordant care to members of the Black community impacted by postpartum mood changes, birth, and racial trauma. Oshun works with legislators, hospitals, educators, and the community to shift from raising awareness to becoming action-oriented in regard to the Black Maternal Mortality rate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women in the United States are 3 to 4 times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes.
Councilmember Oh Calls on School District to Combat Anti-Asian Hate Crime by Providing Asian-American History Lessons. Councilmember David Oh (At Large) introduced his resolution urging the School District of Philadelphia to teach Asian-American history in May, which is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Oh’s resolution noted that hate crimes against the Asian American Pacific Islander community have skyrocketed by 150 percent nationwide over the past year, according to a study released by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University. The resolution also noted that reports of hate crimes against Asian Americans in Philadelphia have tripled between 2019 and 2020.
Councilmember Green Introduces Resolution Recognizing April as Autism Acceptance and Awareness Month. Councilmember Derek Green (At Large), a longstanding advocate for individuals and families living with autism and related disorders, introduced the resolution, which also commends the Philadelphia Eagles’ Autism Foundation and Divine Providence Village for a COVID-19 vaccination initiative. Green’s resolution noted that more than 4,100 individuals in Philadelphia receive autism services, the majority of whom are between 5 and 17 years old. Having such as disability has been identified as a significant risk factor for COVID-19 infection. The Eagles’ foundation and Divine Providence Village, a Catholic facility in Delaware County, partnered to create a sensory-friendly by-appointment vaccine clinic in luxury boxes at Lincoln Financial Field. The effort led to over 1,000 first-dose vaccinations.
OTHER SIGHTS AND SOUNDS FROM THE COUNCIL WEEK
PHILADELPHIA FACTS AND FIGURES
The next Stated Meeting of City Council is scheduled to take place on Thursday, April 15, 2021 at 10 a.m. The Meeting will be held remotely due to the ongoing pandemic, and will air on Xfinity Ch. 64, Fios Channel 40 and stream at www.PHLCouncil.com/watch.