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Philadelphia Pledges Improvements Before
Another Reassessment

by Tom Branham, Washington D.C., March 2019

 

Philadelphia will not proceed with another major property revaluation until issues are resolved with the Office of Property Assessment (OPA). Problems with the OPA were exposed with an audit commissioned by the City Council. The mayor’s office has hired its own consultant to review the audit and make recommendations for improvement.

 

Assessment System Remains Flawed

 

Philadelphia’s property assessment system has been a source of controversy for many years. The city launched the Actual Value Initiative (AVI) in 2014 with the goal of eliminating unfair and inaccurate assessments. Under AVI, every property is assessed at 100% of market value.

 

The AVI was touted as a way to eliminate steep value increases, since assessments would be kept current and updated every year. Last year was the first time since AVI that the city reassessed all residential properties. The reassessment led to the largest number of appeal cases since 2014.

 

The recent audit on the Office of Property Assessment charges that:

 

  • Values assigned to properties do not meet industry standards for commercial, residential and vacant land.

  • Assessments are not uniform. In many cases, they are off on average by more than 15%.

  • Land values vary greatly among similar properties.

  • OPA has deficient data and does not document all of its procedures.

  • Assessment methods are not made public, which makes it difficult for property owners to determine how their values were calculated.

 

The impact of the audit remains unclear. It will have no immediate effect on existing assessments or pending appeals. Both commercial and residential values will remain the same and tax rates will increase until the process is corrected and the AVI restarts. Property owners who are paying more than their fair share in property taxes may have to wait years for relief.

 

"Property owners who are paying more than their fair share in property taxes may have to wait years for relief."

 

New Assessor

 

The audit prompted officials to begin the search for a new chief assessor. Michael Piper has held the role since 2014 but his job has been in limbo since his four-year term expired last June.

 

Under the city code, the mayor nominates a chief assessment officer and a majority of the Council must approve the appointment. Mayor Kenney submitted a resolution to grant Piper another term but no Council member introduced it for a vote.

 

The search for a new chief assessor comes in an election year for mayor and City Council and weeks before the city is expected to finalize assessments that will take place in 2020.