While some city residents were still feeling uninformed and anxious about the new tax assessments, Chestnut Hill was feeling a little more prepared. The Chestnut Hill Community Association has helped prepare residents for the new assessments and for the future when the new tax rates are released in the spring.
Brien Tilley is the president of the Chestnut Hill Community Association. He has lived in Philadelphia for his entire life but has been a resident of Chestnut Hill for the last 12 years. He began his term as president in May 2012.
The Chestnut Hill Community Association’s board is made up of volunteers like Tilley as well as residents from Chestnut Hill and the surrounding areas such as Mount Airy, Flourtown and Wyndmoor. Members are not just residents who currently live in the area.
“People who have lived here for many years, people who have retired far away, are still members, still subscribe to the newspaper. They still reach out and donate to the fund every year, so people really strongly believe in the community,” said Tilley.
The association is a membership-based organization. Those who join must sign up and pay a fee starting at $50 per household. With this affiliation comes rewards.
“Members receive a card, which gives them 10 percent off at almost every store on the avenue and also a discount on newspaper subscriptions,” said Tilley.
The Chestnut Hill Community Association provides a wide variety of services for the residents.
“We do a wide array of things. Our first goal is to enhance the culture of our community and bring our residents, our citizens, businesses and other institutions together and create a culture of good, positive activities and awareness on issues,” said Tilley.
The fund drive is the most important community event that the Chestnut Hill Community Association holds.
“Our goal is to raise roughly $100,000 or more. What we do with the money is, every dollar that comes in goes back out into our community in the sense that we have many organizations that will apply for grants. So we touch many organizations directly in Chestnut Hill and in the surrounding area. Anywhere from retirement home neighborhoods, to local choirs and musical organizations down to Teenagers Inc.,” said Tilley.
The Chestnut Hill Community Association does not only provide money to the community. It also provides information to the residents in order to help them be more informed on city issues. The issue of the Actual Value Initiative has been an important discussion for the association this year.
“Since last fall, we really started paying a lot more attention to it. It really opened my eyes,” said Tilley. “Moving from a really opaque to vague tax system, where we are taxed at an assessed rate, it was really hard to understand here our taxes came from. So moving to an actual value, I think that it makes some good sense.”
So far, there have been two community meetings held to help give residents more information and the opportunity to ask those directly involved with the assessments questions on how and why this is happening.
“Starting last summer, when the Inquirer articles about the tax rate started coming out as high as 1.8 to 1.85, that was a game changer. That could hurt everybody, every community in the city,” said Tilley.
Tilley reached out to board members and local business people about their thoughts. It was clear that there was some real concern and during the next full board meeting, he suggested to have an informational session for the residents. The board members put together a panel for the first community meeting to discuss the Actual Value Initiative on Nov. 14, 2012.
“The objective was not to have our panelist come in and have an opportunity to use it as a forum for their own view of this matter. It was an open discussion for residents,” said Tilly. “That was a very emotional night.”
The next meeting was simply for residents to speak with the Office of Property Assessment. It was held on Feb. 12. This meeting focused more on the technicalities that people wanted to know about.
After these informational sessions, Chestnut Hill residents felt like the assessments that they received were not a surprise.
“I’m not really sure what the concern was about,” said Celeste Hardester, a Chestnut Hill resident.
Although residents are now feeling at ease about the property assessments, there is still some uncertainty surrounding the tax rate, which will be set in the spring.
“It’s going to go up, everything goes up,” said Kevin Sowter of Evergreen Avenue.
There have not been any plans made for future meetings to discuss concerns now that assessments have been released.
“We don’t have another event planned right now but when you get your assessment or when we get the tax rate, reach out to us and let us know. We’re not going to look at individual assessments but if it’s clear that they are really inaccurate or causing a problem, people could come to us and try to have that dialogue,” said Tilley.
Tilley said he hopes that people in the community will reach out and let the association know if they are missing something that could help the residents in the future.