BID expansion is a tax overreach

Chestnut Hill’s Business Improvement District (the “BID”) has succeeded in attracting patrons to the businesses on Germantown Avenue. This effort has been funded by assessments, another property tax, against commercial properties on Germantown Avenue. The tax pays for holiday decorations, advertising and the salary of an executive director. While it is undeniable that all of Chestnut Hill benefits when the business district thrives, it is also clear that the direct benefit of the BID inures to businesses on the Avenue.

Recently, the BID began an effort to expand the area beyond Germantown Avenue and to include residential properties that will be taxed to support its funding. I oppose this attempt to tax residential properties and to expand the number of properties that will be taxed.

The current proposal would impose a new tax on the Roanoke Garage, a business two blocks off the avenue. This two generation mechanic’s shop does not stand to gain any benefit from the BID. Tourists will not travel from surrounding areas to get their cars inspected. This will only serve to punish a business that our community relies upon.

This recent effort to increase the subsidy to the businesses on Germantown Avenue originates with Richard Snowden and his friend and tenant, Seth Shapiro, a real estate developer. Mr. Snowden is the largest single owner of commercial properties on the avenue and Mr. Shapiro, a member of the BID board, rents a desk in Mr. Snowden’s office. Mr. Snowden and Mr. Shapiro have trained their sights on the George Woodward Company by redistricting the BID assessment zone to impose this tax on 31 residential rental properties it owns.

The George Woodward Company has five commercial properties on Germantown Avenue and has never opposed the BID Tax on those properties. This new effort to expand the BID district will increase our tax from $4,500 a year to more than $ 19,000 a year! The Woodward houses in Chestnut Hill provide housing for over 350 long-term and year-round residents who attend our schools, shop in our stores, vote and make their homes in our community.

Mr. Snowden has said that my company “is not contributing enough to Chestnut Hill.” What has Mr. Snowden done for Chestnut Hill? Who is Mr. Snowden to dictate anyone’s taxes? What has Mr. Snowden done to fill all the vacancies in his properties? Has he helped incubate fledgling businesses? Why should owners of residential properties off the Avenue subsidize his business?

If Mr. Snowden would devote his own resources to improving his properties and working to find young entrepreneurs to occupy all his vacant storefronts, he will do far more for Chestnut Hill than taxing residential properties ever will. Instead of increasing taxes on residential properties, we should increase taxes on properties belonging to speculators who allow them to lay vacant for years on end. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see Under the Blue Moon back in business? That wonderful business was lost, 17 years ago and Mr. Snowden has left the property vacant ever since!

In Washington D.C., there is a tax on vacant properties that escalates over time. Reports that I have read credit that tax with rejuvenating business districts. We should study this alternative to see if it will help our community.

Today, the BID wants to tax the George Woodward Company’s properties. Tomorrow, they may try to tax your property. The power to tax is the power to destroy. Where does it end? Who will stop it? I urge every reader to voice their opposition to this unreasonable effort at expansion of this unwarranted tax.

Stanley Woodward

Chairman

George Woodward Co.

 

New PGW residency rules shouldn’t cause an exodus

I am writing to answer the questions about the proposed sale of PGW that Representative Cherelle Parker posed during her recent community meeting as reported in the April 2 issue of the Local. As she said, the devil is in the details. Here are just a few of those details:

The sale agreement that the City of Philadelphia signed with UIL Holdings, which owns natural gas and electric utility companies in New England, has rock solid guarantees that UIL will maintain PGW’s current senior and low-income programs.

UIL has agreed that every current PGW employee will be offered a job and that there will be no lay-offs for at least three years. PGW retiree and employee pensions are protected. UIL is a union company and 58 percent of its employees have a defined benefit pension plan.

Rates under UIL ownership are projected to be lower than if the city were to keep owning PGW (in fact, under city ownership PGW customers “enjoy” the highest gas rates in Pennsylvania). UIL plans to accelerate PGW’s 88-year gas pipe replacement schedule, making the city safer and creating jobs.

Yes, Representative Parker is correct that PGW employees will no longer be required to live in the city if the company is privately owned. But that does not mean people will start leaving the city in droves. In fact, a similar concern was expressed by many in 2011 when Fraternal Order of Police members were given the ability to move out of the city. Less than 8 percent have chosen to do so.

As the former executive director of the Chestnut Hill Business Association, I know that high gas utility costs are a burden for our community’s small businesses, not to mention our residents. Selling PGW will make the company more competitive and safer, while better serving customers.

But don’t take my word for it, get the facts by going to: www.exploringasale.com.

Suzanne Biemiller

First Deputy Chief of Staff

City of Philadelphia

 

Hyperbole alert:

The headline of Sue Ann Rybak’s article about the April 10 Police Sector Area 4 community meeting – “Hill residents confront police over area crime” – misrepresents the tone of the discussion and inaccurately suggests a mood of antipathy in the room that evening. In fact, the opposite was true: It was collegial, constructive and rich in the spirit of mutual support.

While there were a couple of reasonable complaints about speeding on Hillcrest Avenue. and response process on car break-ins, the vast majority of the hour-long session was a thoughtful and refreshingly candid presentation by 14th District Capt. John Fleming on developments in the district, guidelines for reinforcing our personal and property security, and a description of the resources his team can provide.

Capt. Fleming also emphasized that while the 14th District is positioned well to protect us, their job is more effective when we “see something and say something” as thousands of extra eyes and ears in the neighborhood. Officers Seymour, Harris and Mahan – all present despite being off duty – and Lt. Dandridge shared anecdotes, guidance and (as the article did note) offered their email addresses. All of the officers stayed afterwards for individual conversations.

In the 27 years I’ve lived in Chestnut Hill, I’ve never seen such proactive outreach by our police force. Capt. Fleming and his team should get our thanks – not the slap of a misleading headline that smell of broadsheet sensationalism.

Jay Hass

Chestnut Hill