WEEKLY REPORT: AS BUDGET HEARINGS WIND DOWN, COUNCILMEMBERS WEIGH SEVERAL OPTIONS FOR TAX RELIEF

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COUNCILMEMBER O’NEILL INTRODUCES BILL TO DOUBLE EXISTING HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION TO PROVIDE PROPERTY TAX RELIEF FOR HOMEOWNERS

Councilmember Brian J. O’Neill (10th District) yesterday introduced additional legislation in City Council to reduce the impact of recent increased property tax assessments on Philadelphia homeowners.

Councilmember O’Neill’s proposed legislation doubles the amount of the City’s Homestead Exemption from its current level of $45,000 to $90,000. The Homestead Exemption reduces the taxable portion of a property’s assessed value, providing it is the owner’s primary residence.

Earlier this month, the City’s Office of Property Assessments (OPA) posted preliminary data on its website showing 2023 residential property valuations with an average increase of 31% over 2019, the last year that OPA released citywide data.

Following the release of the preliminary assessments, the Kenney Administration also introduced legislation to increase the Homestead Exemption, although that proposal – introduced last week in Council — increases the exemption to $65,000. That measure alone could save homeowners up to $900 on their property taxes.

Councilmember O’Neill’s new proposal brings the exemption amount to the maximum allowed by state law, or fifty percent (50%) of the median assessed value of properties granted a homestead exemption. According to OPA’s 2023 data, $189,800 is the median market value for Philadelphia owner-occupied homes.

“Drastically increasing the homestead exemption is the most effective way to provide immediate relief to taxpayers” O’Neill said.

At the May 12th Council Meeting, Councilmember O’Neill also proposed legislation to extend the 2022 Senior Citizen Tax Freeze application deadline from January 31, 2022 to September 30, 2022, so that eligible senior citizens are able to enroll in the program before the 2023 assessments take effect.

All proposed legislation relating to property tax relief will be referred to committee for public hearings, and will be considered during Council’s ongoing FY2023 budget process. Council must negotiate and approve a city budget by the end of June. Another tax relief bill, introduced last week by Councilmember Cherelle Parker (9th District) on the Kenney administration’s behalf, would reduce the wage tax for workers, to 3.8 percent in the next fiscal year starting July 1st, and to 3.7 percent in fiscal 2024.

COUNCIL APPROVES LEGISLATION MANDATING ASBESTOS INSPECTION REGULATIONS FOR SCHOOL BUILDINGS

City Council on Thursday voted unanimously in favor of amended Bill No. 210685-AA, introduced last fall by Councilmember Derek Green (At-Large), to update the City’s standards for issuance of special certificates of inspection for educational buildings, specifically focusing on asbestos.

Following the discovery of environmental hazards at several schools, including Julia R. Masterman, SLA Beeber, and Frankford High School as the 2021-2022 school year began, calls have grown louder for immediate, permanent action toward sustainable, safe solutions.

Green’s legislation addresses those calls by requiring that the Department of Public Health provide third-party inspection of one-third of schools over each of the next three years. For the longer term, the bill creates the Facility Safety and Improvement Advisory Group, composed of representatives of the District, teachers, principals, maintenance staff, and others, under the Managing Director to review and make recommendations to identify and remediate all property-related hazards.

“As the parent of a child in the Philadelphia School District, as well as the son of a retired Philadelphia public school teacher, I can’t begin to describe my feelings regarding this issue and how crucial it is that we demand more transparency and better outcomes from school district leadership,” Councilmember Green said. “Since our children returned to the classroom last fall, after 18 months of online instruction and virtual learning due to COVID-19, the realization of just how in the dark we were, about what is really going on inside our school facilities – where our kids, teachers and faculty spend much of their time – was evident and stark. My mother taught at Olney High School for 31 years and dealt with the presence of asbestos during her tenure, as my son has to do today as a student at Hill-Freedman World Academy. Thanks to the support of my Council colleagues, the Kenney Administration, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) and others, it is my sincere hope that this legislation will help to hold the School District of Philadelphia to an even greater level of accountability in providing a safe learning and working environment for our children, educators, and faculty members.”

CITY COUNCIL APPROVES BILL  ALLOWING PUBLIC SAFETY ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS TO TICKET ABANDONED CARS

Legislation proposed on Council President Clarke’s behalf – to give still-to-be-hired Public Safety Enforcement Officers the authority to ticket and tow abandoned cars – was approved on final passage yesterday in Council.

Under the legislation, tasks that are currently performed by regular Police Officers, such as ticketing for towing abandoned cars, can instead be performed by Public Safety Enforcement Officers – a new class of public safety officers that City Council has advocated for – and funded in the budget – for several years.

City Council appropriated $1.25 Million in the current year’s budget (FY2021-2022) to fill 28 positions for Public Safety Enforcement Officers. The positions remain unfilled.

The Managing Director’s Office told Council during budget hearings that it intends to move forward with hiring these Enforcement Officers – once it has resolved a challenge to the hirings filed by Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police, which is claiming these jobs would usurp some of their bargained-for job classifications.

CITY COUNCIL INTRODUCES LEGISLATION TO ADDRESS PRISON GERRYMANDERING

City Council introduced legislation Thursday to address and resolve the prisoner gerrymandering issue in Philadelphia – the problem in which men and women incarcerated in state and county jails are counted for U.S. Census purposes where the jails are located – instead of where the inmates reside at their home addresses.

Council Majority Leader Cherelle L. Parker, acting on Council President Darrell L. Clarke’s behalf, introduced legislation to correctly reapportion over 7,800 prisoners in state and county jails into Philadelphia’s 10 Council districts, according to their last known addresses in Philadelphia.

The legislation will not entail or require Council to change any boundary line for Council districts, which were recently reset – in accordance with the United States Census.

“During our recent redistricting process, we heard from the public as well as from advocates for persons incarcerated in state and county jails, who originally are from Philadelphia,” said Council President Clarke. “We heard them, and as we said at the time, we would do the additional work needed to correct count these

individuals, and apportion them into their correct home Council district. That’s what this legislation does.”

The legislation will have a public hearing in Council, at a date to be determined. Once the bill passes, it will go to Mayor Kenney for consideration. Council President Clarke made a point of commending Council staff and Kenney administration officials for working in partnership on this redistricting legislation.

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IN OTHER NEWS…

Councilmember Gauthier Introduces Resolution Designating a “Day of Serenity” for Neighborhoods Plagued by Gun Violence. The resolution, which Councilmember Jamie Gauthier (3rd District) is calling the “Inaugural Day of Serenity in the City of Philadelphia,” allows neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by gun violence a chance to gather in peace and healing. Gauthier’s resolution notes that the community-led coalition promoting this day “demonstrates the community’s commitment to collective healing and trauma-informed practices to combat the gun violence epidemic.” The Day of Serenity, her resolution notes, “is a reminder that positivity, love, and community are powerful and underutilized tools in the fight against violence.”

Ongoing Council Budget Hearings Will Examine Courts, Law Department, Art Museum and Others. The next date for Council’s ongoing hearings is May 24, when Council will consider the budgets of the First Judicial District, the Law Department, and Art Museum. Council will hear public testimony on the budget that same day. The next day, May 25, Council will hear added testimony from the Police Department, the Office of Property Assessment, the School District of Philadelphia, the Citizens Police Oversight Commission, and the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services. The dates and times for all budget hearings can be found in the FY2023 Budget Center at www.PHLCouncil.com/Budget2023.

The public can FY2023 Budget Hearings on Xfinity Ch. 64, Fios Channel 40, and streaming at www.PHLCouncil.com/watch.

OTHER SIGHTS AND SOUNDS FROM THE COUNCIL WEEK

Committee on Public Safety 5-13-2022

Committee on Finance 5-18-2022

Stated Meeting of Philadelphia City Council 5-19-2022

PHILADELPHIA FACTS AND FIGURES

Source: How Future Employment Patterns Could Put Philadelphia’s Operating Budget at Risk, Pew Research Center

The next Stated Meeting of City Council is scheduled to take place on Thursday, May 26, 2022 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.

Featured Photo: M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia

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