ThinkFest Preview: Allan Domb on Getting Our Money’s Worth Out of City Hall

The “condo king” believes that applying business principles to the city's business could help fill its coffers and tackle some stubborn challenges.

In case you didn’t know this, the City of Philadelphia is a corporation.

Running it more like one would redound to taxpayers’ benefit, says City Councilman-at-Large Allan Domb.

“The goal is to have a fiscally responsible, healthy city financially,” he said in a recent interview.

Domb was one of several City Council candidates with no prior experience in electoral politics who ran for seats in the 2015 municipal election. Like fellow candidate Paul Steinke, he had a background in running a business; unlike him, Domb’s was a for-profit one. Allan Domb Real Estate grew over the years into the city’s leading condominium brokerage, and as head of the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors, the “condo king” was not shy about advocating public policies that encouraged development and homeownership.

The property taxes (abated or not) those homeowners pay make up a large portion of the city’s revenue stream and the principal source of funding for its schools. Education has become another of Domb’s signature concerns since taking office on a pledge to donate his Council salary to deserving public schools. He’s found a surprisingly large number of them since launching his effort and says that most city schools are doing better than we think they are: “I went to the schools in the toughest neighborhoods. I was going in expecting to find all kinds of issues, but I was shocked to find so many good things going on.”

Domb argues that the teachers and staffs in these schools are doing outstanding work, care about their pupils, and deserve a raise after four years without one. But the money for those raises has to come from somewhere, and city taxes are high enough as it is. So the answer has to be: The city needs to both collect and spend its money better.

In his ThinkFest talk, “Show Me the Money: Rethinking the City’s Bottom Line,” Domb will focus on issues such as collecting delinquent taxes, fixing out-of-whack commercial property assessments, and introducing business efficiency into city operations as simple steps the city can take to put its fiscal house in better shape.

“All this goes into one thing: Raising our bond rating,” he said. “When we raise our bond rating, we lower our cost of borrowing.” And when that happens, the money the city had been spending on interest can be spent on other things, like paying those teachers what they deserve.

Join us on November 15th at the Convention Center for this one-day event where Philly’s smartest people share their biggest ideas. Check out the full lineup of speakers and get your tickets today.

Follow Sandy Smith on Twitter.