Assessments befuddle, anger Philadelphians.
TO PARAPHRASE the movie "Network," Philadelphians are confused as hell and they're not going to take it anymore.
They're confused, often angry, about AVI - the Actual Value Initiative that Mayor Nutter is using to: 1) establish true market value for property and 2) apply tax at that value. It is a massive task no other city has voluntarily attempted.
Over the past two years, all 579,383 pieces of city real estate supposedly were eyeballed by experts for reassessment. Some city residents now find their property is worth far more than it used to be, others much less.
Examples? Percent valuation up: Fairmount (55), University City (70), Queen Village (112), Bella Vista (132), Southwest Center City (270). Percent valuation down: Somerton (3), Chestnut Hill (3), Bustleton (5), Wynnefield (13), Eastwick (31).
AVI is supposed to be revenue neutral, meaning the same amount will flow into city coffers but the burden will be shifted from commercial landlords, whose valuations haven't been as out of whack, to residential owners. Around $72 million will be saved by those with the deepest pockets: big commercial landlords. (Is this AVI or WTF?)
No one ever asks, but I will: Why does AVI have to be revenue neutral? Philadelphia per capita property taxes are one-third of Boston's, according to Pew Research. "Revenue neutral" may make political sense, but it makes as much economic sense as tax breaks for gonzo landlords.
Although the city has talked about fixing its flawed tax system for longer than we've been worried about climate change, when AVI landed most people thought it was E.T.
To get citizens in the loop, the city put up a good explanation on its website, but since some people don't have or don't like computers, it also offered "outreach sessions" to explain AVI. That was in addition to community meetings run by City Council members whose constituents gave them more heat than a Cliff Lee fastball. Councilman Curtis Jones complained of the "butt-kicking" he's getting from constituents.
As a test, I visited an outreach session in Northern Liberties (a/k/a No Libs) the other night.
Learning from earlier, sloppy sessions, city workers were prepared and polite. As a Philadelphian, I was elated. As a columnist, I was deflated. (It's more fun to write about screwups.)
Everyone I spoke with said the 14 people - volunteers drawn from various city departments - seated under the chandeliers in the Cescaphe Ballroom were helpful. "It's all about hand-holding and answering questions," said No Libs resident Tom Lennon.
Doors opened before the 6 p.m. start time and the citizens I spoke with - coming from Northern Liberties and Chinatown and Society Hill - generally knew what was going on, but I doubt they were typical. Too many Philadelphians prefer to bathe in the bliss of ignorance until it's too late.
Some were disappointed that assessors were not present because they wanted to challenge what the city says their property is worth. Instead, they got advice.
Retiree Jeanne Myers, a resident of Society Hill Towers, wanted to know why her low-floor unit was given greater value than a unit on a higher floor with expensive upgrades.
Like others, she will have to get those answers and file her appeal elsewhere. Myers represents the many homeowners who are confused and unhappy. They have to be convinced that AVI is fair and accurate.
This is the keystone of Nutter's legacy. He's got to get it right and sell it to the people.
But can he?
On Twitter: @StuBykofsky