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DN Editorial: CONTROLLER ERROR: What's behind Alan Butkovitz's flawed assault on AVI?

Butkovitz seems to have something else in mind than adding clarity to the issue.

ALMOST every week, it seems, someone releases a study designed to refute the city's new Actual Value Initiative.

The latest is from Controller Alan Butkovitz's office, and his says that not only are the new property assessments more inaccurate than the current system, but they're maybe racist, too.

For months now, the hue and cry over AVI has been unrelenting: Some homeowners saw jaw-dropping increases in values for properties that hadn't been assessed correctly since Humphrey Morrey was mayor. (That was 1691 to 1701.) Coupled with a lack of clarity of how those assessments would impact tax bills and generalized panic about old people forced out of their homes, AVI has become a highly emotional issue. This is not surprising, given how complex the notion of property values are even in the best of circumstances.

It seemed that the panic was settling when a recent City Council report found that most homeowners will indeed see lower tax bills, and that just 10 percent would see tax-bill hikes of $400 or more.

In fact, only 5 percent of homeowners have appealed their new assessement.

But Butkovitz - who is running for re-election against two challengers in the primary a few weeks from now - seems to have something else in mind than adding clarity to the issue.

His new report says that AVI hasn't improved accuracy or fairness.

But Kevin Gillen, a well-respected economist who helped create AVI, says that although he respects the economist who did the controller's report, the data used for the report was biased, incomplete, dated and contained many nonmarket transactions. Further, Gillen points out that the report violates widely accepted industry guidelines by using sales prices rather than net rental income to determine the assessment accuracy of commercial properties.

These are only two flaws among many cited by Gillen, but, in his words, they seriously "delegitimize" the report's findings.

Then there is the strangely worded suggestion that AVI is racist: "[A]s ZIP codes become more African-American, the median level of residential assessment rises. As ZIP code areas because more Caucasian, the median level of residential assessment falls."

Is Butkovitz suggesting that the African-American mayor hired an African-American assessment chief to conspire to discriminate against other African-Americans?

We have commended some Butkovitz reports and criticized others for being more interested in finding fault than solutions. That seems to be the case with this one. Is Butkovitz saying that the city should stick with the old system, which is clearly unfair? Is he trying to destabilize the confidence that people may have in the new AVI system - even though they have no choice but to participate?

The biggest flaw in the old system was how the Bureau of Revision of Taxes politicized taxation: assessments were often based on who you knew.

Whether you agree with your own assessment, no one disputes that AVI was designed with the intent of being fair and removing politics from the process.

Too bad we can't say the same for this newest report.