Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter revealed his proposed $3.75 billion budget and five-year plan today -- calling for firehouse improvements, modernization of city libraries and revised property taxes.
“At the heart of this budget is a reform that Philadelphia property owners have been denied for decades,” Nutter said.
“Philadelphia now has the property tax system we deserve -- a system that is fair, accurate, transparent, understandable and equitable,” he said.
The Office of Property Assessment recently completed the process of revaluing all properties as part of the Actual Value Initiative (AVI) in the city and in turn, upped taxable property from $36 billion to more than $98 billion.
Nutter plans to drop the property tax rate from 9.771 percent to 1.3204 percent while still collecting the same amount of property taxes in the coming year. Nutter calls for 54 percent of the $1.2 billion to be collected in property taxes to go towards the Philadelphia School District.
"The Philadelphia School District, which is squarely confronting massive fiscal challenges, will have more resources to educate our children."
Nutter said that $30 million in tax relief will be set aside to help property owners hit hard, especially low-income and older property owners and long-term homeowners in gentrified neighborhoods.
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown said in a release that “the challenge” for the Council will be to reach agreement “on a package of relief measures that touch affected homeowners across the city in a fair and equitable way.”
The mayor’s speech came to an unprecedented halt as protesters upset by Nutter’s ongoing contract dispute with some city union workers chanted, blew whistles and made noise. Unable to get the crowd to quiet down, Nutter was escorted by police officers to a nearby room and eventually, completed his address in different room in front of members of the media and some of his staff.
Most of the protesters were union members and their supporters. Municipal workers in the city have been working without a contract since 2009.
Nutter says his budget calls for $26 million to be set aside in the coming fiscal year for future labor talks with various city unions including District Councils 33 and 47, the firefighters union and deputy sheriffs. His five-year plan sets aside $84 million for future negotiations.
Nutter hopes to improve revenue collection by establishing a Chief Revenue Collections Officer and using technology to catch tax delinquents.
"I am not satisfied at all with our current efforts to collect taxes and fees owed to the City," Nutter said. "It’s not fair to taxpayers who pay and pay while others don’t or won’t."
Certain city departments will see more money under Nutter’s plan. The mayor’s budget includes spending $2.1 million to improve city firehouses and $4.7 million for new equipment including 35 Jaws of Life. He also will invest $624,000 in public computer centers.
“Today, we are spending tax dollars on the health and wellness of our citizens, on libraries and recreation centers, on playgrounds and parks, on public safety, on creating an environment that fosters economic development instead of stifling it,” Nutter said.
Just a few years removed from threatening to close city libraries, he is calling for $6 million in investments to modernize libraries and expanded hours to help job seekers and young people.
Nutter also wants to hire 30 public property workers to improve fire and police stations and add 40 workers to the Parks & Recreation department.
The budget includes $99 million in added costs, including $69 million in new spending for police officer salaries and employee pensions.
However, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said that the proposed budget would be “net decrease" for law enforcement. Williams estimates that his office would by short about $500,000 compared to the previous fiscal year.
The budget also calls for tax reductions to support job growth, Nutter said.
The budget, which would begin July 1, must still be approved by city council.
Due to the distractions in city Council, City Council President Darrell Clarke wasn’t able to comment on the proposals but would do so in the near future, said Clarke spokeswoman Jane Roh.