Tax talk

Tax re­form act­iv­ist Brett Man­del at­ten­ded a meet­ing of the Fishtown Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation last week to dis­cuss the ef­fects of the city’s Ac­tu­al Value Ini­ti­at­ive — and to make the case for his sup­port of the plan.

If Brett Man­del, tax re­form act­iv­ist and former can­did­ate for city con­trol­ler, is cor­rect about how the Ac­tu­al Value Ini­ti­at­ive will im­pact the river­wards, res­id­ents might be look­ing at high­er prop­erty taxes next year.

Man­del was present at last week’s monthly meet­ing of the Fishtown Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation Ju­ly 19 to dis­cuss the ef­fects the AVI could have on res­id­ents.

“We are prob­ably go­ing to see some wonky things go­ing on with taxes, es­pe­cially in our neigh­bor­hood,” Fishtown Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation pres­id­ent Jill Bet­ters told the gathered crowd at the Fishtown Re­cre­ation Cen­ter, near the in­ter­sec­tion of Mont­gomery Street and Gir­ard Av­en­ue.

In ex­plain­ing why prop­erty own­ers might need to brace them­selves for high­er taxes thanks to the AVI — the city’s prop­erty tax as­sess­ment plan which has been pushed back un­til next year — Man­del dis­cussed the city’s cur­rent as­sess­ment sys­tem and the prob­lems that ex­ist.

“We have to fix this sys­tem,” said Man­del. “Every­body agrees this sys­tem is broken.”

Cur­rently, he said, the city taxes homes at about 23 per­cent of their mar­ket value. Since the as­sessed value of homes is of­ten far from the true value, this can make for wildly dif­fer­ent tax rates on homes throughout the city.

“There’s un­fair­ness from neigh­bor­hood to neigh­bor­hood, block to block and house to house,” said Man­del.

In de­tail­ing the is­sue, he said in some areas of the city, where homes have been over­val­ued, homeown­ers end up pay­ing high­er prop­erty taxes than they should.

This can be tricky, he said, be­cause a homeown­er might be pla­cated by the fact that the home is as­sessed at a high mar­ket value.

“But, the real­ity is, they’ll nev­er sell it for that price,” said Man­del.

In oth­er areas that have grown in pop­ular­ity and pop­u­la­tion, like Fishtown and North­ern Liber­ties, cur­rently as­sessed taxes may be too low, as prop­erty val­ues of homes have in­creased as the neigh­bor­hoods have be­come more de­sir­able.

“The sys­tem is screwed up, we have to work on fix­ing it the right way,” said Man­del.

The AVI, he said, would al­low a ree­valu­ation of prop­er­ties throughout the city, al­low­ing a more open and trans­par­ent means of tax­a­tion, since prop­er­ties will be taxed at cur­rent mar­ket val­ues.

Man­del stated that some parts of this new pro­gram are still up in the air, as the city must set a tax rate. Also, the city plans to re­lease home re­as­sess­ment val­ues in Feb­ru­ary of next year, mean­ing homeown­ers might not be able to es­tim­ate what their new prop­erty tax costs will be un­til then.

However, some at last Thursday’s meet­ing seemed more than happy to stay with the cur­rent sys­tem, if it kept prop­erty taxes lower.

“The value of my home shouldn’t mat­ter un­less I want to sell,” said neigh­bor­hood res­id­ent Zoa Schisler. “My neigh­bors aren’t in­vestors, they’re stay­ing…If you want to keep Fishtown stable, you can’t treat it like an in­vest­ment.”

Man­del ac­know­ledged that there are some ex­emp­tions, like a homestead ex­emp­tion that will provide a cut – though just how much isn’t defined yet – to homeown­ers who don’t plan to sell their homes, and an anti-gentri­fic­a­tion pro­pos­al that could see fur­ther cuts for any­one who has lived in their home for 10 years or more.

“I don’t know ex­actly where coun­cil’s go­ing to end up,” ad­mit­ted Man­del, not­ing that much of the AVI dis­cus­sion will need to wait un­til City Coun­cil re­turns after the sum­mer. “As pain­ful as it’s go­ing to be, and it’s go­ing to be pain­ful for me and people in this neigh­bor­hood who will prob­ably have to pay more, we need the sys­tem to be fair.”

With so many un­knowns – prop­erty val­ues will not be clear un­til Feb­ru­ary – Bet­ters reigned in the con­ver­sa­tion, say­ing that there will be more in­form­a­tion in AVI is­sues at up­com­ing meet­ings and Man­del offered to come back and dis­cuss the is­sue again.

“I don’t think this con­ver­sa­tion is over,” said Bet­ters.

Asked just how loc­al res­id­ents will be able to swal­low this po­ten­tially bit­ter tax pill, at the end of the meet­ing Man­del said that res­id­ents who see their taxes in­crease might just have to con­sole them­selves with the know­ledge that the re­as­sessed taxes mean that while taxes in­crease in one area, oth­er homeown­ers who have long been over­taxed are fi­nally see­ing some re­lief.

“It’s bad news for every­body un­der­val­ued. In the short term, it’s hard to con­vince any­one that this will be bet­ter, if they have to pay more,” he said. “But, on the oth­er hand, there are people all over the city who are work­ing just as hard, but have been over­taxed for years.”

Star Staff Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be con­tac­ted at 215-354-3124 or hmit­

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