By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A backlog of property tax appeals, and a plan to give raises to the board that hears appeals, have prompted angry words from Mayor Nutter. He says the board should not need extra cash in order to handle appeals more quickly.
Mayor Nutter has allowed a City Council bill that raises the pay of members of the Board of Revision of Taxes to become law without his signature. The measure’s sponsor, Councilman Mark Squilla, says the extra cash will prompt the board to speed up appeal hearings. But Nutter told KYW Newsradio it shouldn’t take a pay raise to get the job done:
“What I’m saying here is, the pay is the pay. You took the job. Do the job. And if you don’t want to do the job at whatever the pay is, I am sure there are hundreds of Philadelphians who’d be glad to line up to get that particular job at whatever the salary is. Do your job.”
Nutter also points out that mid-term pay raises are prohibited by the state constitution:
“I would expect that implementation should go along the lines of what the state Constitution provides. At some appropriate point, depending on when someone’s term is up or they start new (on the board), the pay will go to whatever the levels are in the legislation. So from my perspective, its dealing with something going forward in the future.”
But when asked if the pay raises would, in fact, be withheld until new terms occur, Nutter referred that question to the city’s Law Department. A spokesman said later that the Administration is waiting for the BRT to send over paperwork related to the pay raises before addressing that question. Nutter did point out what he views as an irony: when he tried to cut BRT salaries in 2010, the members sued — and won — because of that constitutional prohibition on mid-term pay raises:
“The court ruled that the BRT members were right, that you can’t change the pay during the course of a term. Now they come back and say, we want you to raise our pay. Which completely, of course, contradicts the ruling that they sought, and won.”
So given that, Nutter had this message for BRT members:
“Now is the time to do the job and do the work for what you’re being paid, whatever the pay is. Because you took job under the pay conditions that existed at that time. So just do your job.”
The BRT chairman, former Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice Russell Nigro, refused KYW Newsradio’s repeated requests for comment. Nigro currently earns $50,000 as chairman, while board secretary Robert Nix earns $45,000. Other board members earn $150 per diem.
Under the council measure, all would receive $70,000 per year. The BRT is currently hearing appeals that resulted from last year’s citywide reassessment. Twenty-three thousand appeals were filed, and the board has so far heard about 10% of them.
BRT executive director Carla Pagan says that effective May 1st, the board will ramp up its hearing schedule, holding 14 hearing sessions a week, rather than the current five.
Administration officials hope that new schedule will allow the BRT to resolve the backlog by the end of the next fiscal year, in June of 2015.