Got Little Ones? Living in the City Will Save You a Bundle

They grow up fast - but while they're young, you can save a bundle raising your kids in Philadelphia compared to its suburbs. | Photo:

They grow up fast – but while they’re young, you can save a bundle raising your kids in Philadelphia compared to its suburbs. | Photo:

If you’re in a family way, and you’re looking for a place that can accommodate your new arrival, you might want to read this, for it could save you a pile of money in the early years.

A new study conducted by the caregiving site and the real estate search engine Zillow examined how much it would cost a family with very young children to live and raise them in the core cities and suburbs of 30 large and medium-sized U.S. cities.

On the whole, living in suburbia saves the typical American urbanite $9,073 annually over living in the central city, when mortgage costs, property taxes and child care costs are taken into account. But at the metropolitan level, this was not uniformly the case: in 15 of the 30 cities the study examined, living in the city cost less.

And nowhere was the savings greater than in Philadelphia. Read more »

Shop Your Property Taxes Away

Duffy’s Fine Chocolate, one of the new Haddonfield businesses in a new property tax program. Photograph by Gene Smirnov

Duffy’s Fine Chocolates, one of the Haddonfield businesses in a new property tax program. Photograph by Gene Smirnov

On a sidewalk bench in Haddonfield, across Kings Highway from the Bistro, two frosty-haired high-heeled ladies are locked in perpetual conversation. Cast in bronze — the work of sculptor Seward Johnson — they sit day and night. It was raining steadily when I first encountered them in January. And while I couldn’t hear what they were saying, I felt certain they were trading notes on how much they planned to lower their property tax bills this year just by shopping in downtown Haddonfield.

In November, before the holiday retail season, borough officials announced the new Shop Haddonfield property tax reward program. It’s meant to encourage residents to patronize local businesses by essentially lowering their property taxes without costing the township a dime. How it works is simple — sort of. When residents buy something at a participating downtown shop or restaurant, they swipe their “property tax reward card” to receive a discount. But rather than collecting the savings on the spot, they get a credit against their property tax bill. Businesses choose whether to participate and set their own discount rates. Most hover between five and 10 percent. Read more »

Will Harrisburg Go Nuclear on Property Taxes?

Owners of pricey real estate might have every reason to cheer a bill that would almost totally eliminate property taxes statewide. So would homeowners in stressed school districts in poorer rural counties. Would anyone else? | Photo: Sikeri | Flickr

Owners of pricey real estate might have every reason to cheer a bill that would almost totally eliminate property taxes statewide. So would homeowners in stressed school districts in poorer rural counties. Would anyone else? | Photo: Sikeri | Flickr

Even though property taxes in Philadelphia remain low relative to the rest of the region, and much of the Commonwealth, many homeowners were upset when they got their new, much higher tax bills in the wake of the Actual Value Initiative (AVI) reassessments.

Now, multiply that reaction by at least 10 and you may approach the level of ire residents of some of the state’s less-well-off rural counties have expressed over similar hikes.

That ire has sparked a movement that could be on the verge of almost totally wiping out property taxes in the state. Though fueled largely by Tea Partiers and a part of the conservative movement, it cuts across ideological lines in strange ways. It could also have a host of unintended consequences if the bill the movement has drafted to bring about this near-total abolition actually does become law. Read more »

The No-Bullshit Guide to the Fight Over the Philly Soda Tax

Soda Tax Battle

Clockwise from left: Mayor Jim Kenney, Council President Darrell Clarke, Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and union leader John Dougherty.

For the third time in less than 10 years, Philadelphia City Council is reaching the end of a debate on whether to impose a tax on soda and other sugary drinks. Former Mayor Michael Nutter tried twice to get a soda tax approved, pitching it primarily as a public health initiative with the added benefit of raising revenue. Both times, after intense lobbying from the soda industry, Council rejected the proposal.

Now, Mayor Jim Kenney is hoping the third time’s the charm. In his first budget, Kenney is calling for a three-cents-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks. That’s higher than the rates Nutter asked for, but Kenney, despite occasionally pointing out that the tax would help fight obesity, says that this proposal isn’t about public health. It’s about money, he says — money for programs that many Philadelphians and City Council members say they support.

Unless you’re a City Council member, you don’t get to vote on whether to approve, reject, or amend the soda tax. But that hasn’t stopped dozens of industry lobbyists and advocacy groups from trying to sway the outcome. We’re likely to find out where it will land Wednesday, when Council holds its last scheduled budget hearing before taking a summer recess. At the moment, lawmakers seem to be uniting around a compromise soda tax, but that could very well change as anti-tax advocates turn up the pressure today.

Not sure how to feel about it all? Here’s the deal. Read more »

Now Council’s Considering a Property Tax Hike to Pay for Pre-K

Photo by Jared

Councilwoman Cindy Bass. | Photo by Jared Piper/Philadelphia City Council

Councilwoman Cindy Bass said on Tuesday that her office is working on a bill that would raise the property tax rate in Philadelphia, as City Council continues to weigh alternatives to Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed soda tax. Bass declined to discuss details of the legislation. Read more »

City To Get $30 Million in New Real Estate Tax Revenue

Real estate taxes in Society Hill should rise under revised land assessments announced today by City Controller Alan Butkovitz. Photo: Sikeri | Flickr

Real estate taxes in Society Hill, as well as 35 of the city’s 50 ZIP codes, will likely rise under revised land value assessments announced today by City Controller Alan Butkovitz. Photo: Sikeri | Flickr

The City of Philadelphia is coming into some cash next year. City Controller Alan Butkovitz released his monthly economic report today, in which he reveals that the City’s new property assessments could bring in around $30 million in new real estate tax revenues.

The increase in value is due to the increased assessment of the land portion of 36,778 properties. Real estate taxes will rise on average in 35 of Philadelphia’s 50 ZIP codes. (To name a couple: Center City—$1,013 increase. Northern Liberties—$489.) Taxes will fall on average in 14 and one will see no change. The sum of all these tax adjustments will come out to a net increase in real estate tax revenue of approximately $14 million for the city’s general fund and $17 million for the School District of Philadelphia. Read more »

The Brief: We’ll Soon Know the Names of All Cops Who Shoot Civilians

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. AP | Matt Rourke

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. AP | Matt Rourke

1. The police department is going to start releasing the names of officers who fire at civilians.

The gistCity Paper reports that Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey announced in a memo yesterday that “the department will immediately begin disclosing the names of officers who discharge their firearms in Officer-Involved Shootings ‘within seventy-two (72) hours of the incident.'” According to the memo, this was one of the recommendations made by the U.S. Department of Justice in its scathing report on police shootings in Philadelphia. Also, the department will examine each case to ensure that “no threats are made toward the officer or members of their family prior to the release of this information.” Read more »

Philly’s Tax Lien Sale Sucked*

Investment desperately needed. | Photo by Jukie Bot on Flickr, Creative Commons License.

Photo by Jukie Bot on Flickr, Creative Commons License.

Philadelphia’s first tax lien sale under Mayor Michael Nutter was a flop. But it was also kind of amazing.

I’ll explain, but first, a quick primer on this complex but important problem. Tax liens are legal claims the city slaps on properties when the owners of those properties fail to pay their taxes. Liens give the city the right to auction off tax-delinquent properties and use the profits to cover the taxes that are owed. Property tax delinquency is an epidemic in Philadelphia. About 100,000 properties are in arrears — which is one of the highest rates in the nation — and they owe a total of about $500 million in unpaid taxes and penalties to the city and cash-strapped School District of Philadelphia. As large as that $500 million figure is, the bigger problem with property tax delinquency is probably the blight generated by past-due parcels, which are often vacant and owned by speculators, not homeowners.

The city has struggled mightily to curb rampant tax delinquency. The lien sale was an experimental attempt at a new strategy: selling the liens to private investors, who would then have the same authority the city has to collect penalties and interest from delinquent property owners, and even to begin foreclosure proceedings on delinquent properties. Lien sales are, at root, an outsourcing of delinquency enforcement.

Over the last few days, the city tried to auction off 865 liens online. The sale ended Monday, and the results sucked. Philly sold only sold 28 percent of the liens for a total of $2.1 million, according to data from the city’s revenue department.

Read more »

5 Questions About the Future of Philly’s Schools

Students have a modest request of City Council. | Photo  courtesy of Philadelphia City Council. Produced and Edited by Michael Falconi and Jenae Brown.

Earlier this year, students made a modest request of City Council. | Photo Credit: City Council’s Flickr

Philadelphia City Council did something Thursday that it’s done a lot in recent years: voted to increase both taxes and education funding. Lawmakers expect to raise an extra $70 million for the city’s schools by hiking the property, parking and use-and-occupancy levies.

So, where does that leave the school district? Somewhat better off than it was before, no doubt. But it’s not out of the woods yet, either. Its future depends on the answers to these five big questions, which we should learn in the coming weeks: Read more »

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