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Legal Snag Could Delay Pay Boost For Phila. Tax Appeals Board

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(Philadelphia city councilman Mark Squilla, in file photo.  Credit: Mike Dunn)

(Philadelphia city councilman Mark Squilla, in file photo. Credit: Mike Dunn)

Mike Dunn Mike Dunn
Mike Dunn is City Hall bureau chief for KYW Newsradio 1060. He covers...
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By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Hoping that higher salaries for the panel that hears property tax appeals in Philadelphia will help speed up thousands of pending reviews, City Council has voted to raise the pay for members of the Board of Revision of Taxes.

But the raises could be delayed because of a previous court ruling regarding BRT pay.

Back in 2010, BRT members saw their pay slashed by Mayor Nutter, with City Council approval.

Now, City Council has given final, unanimous approval to a measure from Councilman Mark Squilla (top photo) that restores the pay of board members, ending what Squilla says has been a huge disparity.

“We have some board members making $70,000 a year, other board members making $150 dollars a day.   If we expect people to do the job and be paid fairly, I think they should be paid the same,” Squilla said.

Squilla says this disparity has exacerbated a backlog of appeals heard by the BRT in the wake of last year’s overhaul of property assessments (see related story).  He thinks boosting the pay to $70,000 annually for all BRT members will speed things up.

“I’m hoping, by having this legislation, that that will ensure that we will have speedy appeals, and that we will get the majority of all these appeals done within this year’s timeframe,” Squilla says.

The measure to restore the pay now goes to Mayor Nutter.  His administration did not speak either for or against the bill when it was heard in committee.  A spokesman for the mayor says the measure is under review.

Squilla is hopeful the pay for all BRT members is restored:

“Our goal is to have speedy (appeals) hearings.  And I think this will help have that happen.”

However, even if the measure becomes law, it is unclear when the raises would take effect.  When BRT members challenged the 2010 legislation that originally cut their pay, a court ruled that their salaries could not change mid-term.  If that ruling also applies to this bill, BRT members ironically could not see a pay raise until new terms begin.

BRT officials did not respond to our request to interview the current BRT chairman, former Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice Russell Nigro, on that point and other questions about the pay raises.

When asked if the earlier ruling would force a delay in the pay raises, Mayor Nutter’s top attorney, city solicitor Shelley Smith, said her office has not yet issued an opinion on the question.

The 2010 law cut BRT members’ salaries down to $150 per diem, except for the chairman and secretary, who are paid $50,000 and $45,000 respectively.

The BRT so far has resolved less than ten percent of the nearly 27,000 appeals that were filed over the new assessments.  Officials at the BRT also did not respond to our request for estimates on when the appeals would be fully resolved, either with or without the pay increase.

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