In a budget hearing today, Council members lobbed at administration officials a number of questions skeptical of the citywide reassessment key to Mayor Nutter's property tax reform effort.
Majority Leader Curtis Jones Jr. went so far as to label the process of assigning a market value to each of the city's 579,000 parcels a "wild-assed guess."
And Council President Darrell L. Clarke, using the example of a Francisville community leader whose home was assessed at $455,000, told the Office of Property Assessment's chief assessor, Richie McKeithen, "You're basically speculating."
"What that person is expected to pay in taxes is not speculative," Clarke said. "It's real dollars."
What McKeithen actually had described was the process by which assessors take five years of time-adjusted sales data, property characteristics and other information to attempt to reach a market value for homes that had not had a recent sale in their neighborhoods.
"What you're doing is comparing what was sold and making adjustments to put values on properties that haven't," he said.
Several Council members asked for more information on the "formula" used to calculate assessments, and OPA officials admitted that the complicated mathematics used isn't very "user-friendly" to the general public.
McKeithen reiterated what he has been saying for weeks at community meetings – he didn't expect the reassessment to be perfect in the first year, and property owners who believe their values are wrong should file a first level review with OPA. Information from those reviews, asking assessors to take a second look at properties, will make values more accurate in future years, he said.
As of Friday, 16,500 people had filed for a review with OPA. The deadline is March 31, or 30 days after a property owner receives an assessment notice. Property owners also can appeal to the Board of Revision of Taxes by Oct. 7.
The mayor's reform effort, the Actual Value Initiative (AVI), promise to fix a system that for decades has been rife with errors, inequities and inaccuracies – some of them the result of political meddling.
McKeithen said the reassessment came within industry standards for accuracy – a "pretty extraordinary" achievement, given the state of assessments before AVI.
"I think you have a good reassessment right now," McKeithen said. "You're within the industry standard. You've come a long way."
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