Promising to fix the city's system for valuing properties by next year, Mayor Nutter said Thursday that he would add $4.4 million to the city budget to hire 80 assessors and buy new technology.
"The assessment notices that go out in the fall of 2012 will be based on the actual value of properties," Nutter said in his annual budget address to City Council. "We're going to fix this system. Citizens have waited long enough. It's time to finish the job."
The fall 2012 date is the first time Nutter has made such a specific promise about when the city would complete its overhaul.
The additional funds bring the fiscal 2012 budget in the city's Office of Property Assessments to $11.7 million.
The new assessors, also known as evaluators, would bring the total number of people in that job to 130 in that office. The civil service jobs would start at salaries of $35,000 to $40,000 yearly. The workers are members of District Council 47, the white-collar workers' union
Richie McKeithen, whom Nutter hired last summer, as the city's top assessor, said the new hires would create more manageable workloads for assessors, who conduct on-site property visits.
Industry standards call for each assessor to handle about 3,000 properties, but some Philadelphia assessors handle 10,000 or more, McKeithen said.
The office's computers and printers are so old that workers often can't print good copies of materials they need to evaluate properties, city Finance Director Rob Dubow said.
In January Kenneth L. Metzner, a lawyer and property-tax activist, sued the city to force it to adopt a new, equitable set of property values. The suit also seeks to strike down a 9.9 percent property-tax increase enacted for fiscal 2011 and 2012.
Metzner and Brett Mandel, the lead plaintiff in the suit, contend that Nutter, and other mayors before him, have delayed fixing the system, fearing voters whose property taxes would rise following a reassessment would retaliate at the voting booth.
McKeithen said it simply takes a long time to update descriptions of the city's 577,000 properties and reassess them.
Industry standards call for taking specific steps, and that takes time, McKeithen said.
"I don't think it would be wise for the city of Philadelphia to go outside of industry standards for assessment purposes," McKeithen said.
Metzner said Nutter's proposal, "sounds like it's a step in the right direction."
He added, however, that the move does nothing to help people now who pay more than their fair share.
The controversy over the city's assessment goes back 60 years.
Since his days on City Council, from 1991 through 2006, Nutter has been pushing to fix the city's broken property assessments. He also led the charge on a public vote last year that stopped the Board of Revision of Taxes from determining property values, following an Inquirer series on the agency's mismanagement and cronyism. The seven-member BRT won a legal fight and remains in place, but for appeals only.
The new Office of Property Assessments is in charge of setting the numbers.
The city collects about $1 billion in taxes yearly.
The state constitution requires that values be uniform for all taxpayers, but city officials have long said the current system fails at that.
Multiple studies have confirmed the problem.
In 2008, an Inquirer analysis found that more than 97 percent of the city's properties had faulty assessments, with many of them wildly wrong.
Homeowners in well-off neighborhoods such as Center City and Queen Village are paying just half or less of what they should be, while residents of poorer neighborhoods are being billed for more than their fair share. Commercial properties, too, are paying too much overall.