Pay Raises Grease the Machinery at Phila. Property Tax Review Board
By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Members of the board that has hears property tax appeals in Philadelphia have gotten a pay raise, so now they’re working harder.
As City Council reviewed the budget of the Board of Revision of Taxes today, no member of the board showed up. Instead councilmembers heard from the top staffer, executive director Carla Pagan. She confirmed that the measure approved last month by Council to give board members a pay raise had its intended effect: the BRT has now greatly increased the number of appeals it is hearing.
“Since the Council bill passed last month, our appeal hearings have increased from about 3-5 sessions per week to about 14 sessions a week. So that’s good news to report. And we’re hearing approximately 660 cases a week, and we were before at about 150. So we’re moving (the backlog) down much quicker than before,” she said.
When questioned by reporters later about why it took a pay raise for the board to hear more appeals, Pagan noted that previously there was a disparity among what the seven board members were being paid. Some received salaries, others were paid a per-diem fee.
“It’s a challenge when there are seven people hired to do the same job who don’t make the same pay, so that bill removed that obstacle,” she said.
The original pay rates, though, were known to the board members when they chose to take the positions. The new measure puts salaries for all board members at about $70,000 per year.
The chairman of the BRT, former Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice Russell Nigro, has refused to speak to KYW Newsradio about the matter.
It was back in 2010 that Mayor Nutter convinced City Council to slash the pay of the five-member BRT board, with whom he was then battling. The 2010 law cut BRT members salaries down to $150 per diem, except for the chairman and secretary, who were paid $50,000 and $45,000 annually, respectively.
Pagan said that so far about 6,000 of the 23,000 appeals have been heard. She expects residential appeals to be completed, under the ramped-up schedule, by the end of September. She could not give an estimate on when all commercial property appeals would be resolved.
When asked why no board members came to the City Council hearing, Pagan said, “The board is in hearings right now, actually.”
When BRT members challenged the 2010 pay cut, a court ruled that any mid-term pay changes would violate the state constitution. Ironically, these pay raises have come mid-term and thus would appear to also violate the constitution, though it’s clear that the Nutter administration has decided to look the other way on that question.
Rob Dubow, the mayor’s finance director, confirms that the higher pay rates for five of the seven members have been processed and that the administration is “waiting for the paperwork on the other two.”