Mark Squilla does not want to rush into pushing 100 percent property assessments on city residents. The South Philly councilman has introduced a bill that would spread the impact of the Actual Value Initiative over three years.
Squilla’s measure, if passed by City Council and signed by Mayor Michael Nutter, would spread the impact of real-value assessments over 2014, 2015 and 2016. It would soften the blow of steep tax increases for residents who have seen dramatic property value increases because of AVI, but it would also spread tax decreases over three years.
The proposed delay is an important step, Squilla said, given that so many of the new property values might not reflect what they actually are worth. Fixing what’s wrong, he said, will take years, so why start charging people higher taxes right away? Or, even worse, why start giving them tax decreases that might turn into increases?
“We want to make sure we aren’t taxing people on assessments that aren’t correct,” Squilla said in an April 5 interview.
The idea behind basing taxes on the market values of properties rather than on partial values is to make those taxes fairer than they’ve been. But there are more than 20,000 residents who don’t agree they’ve gotten fair shakes under AVI, and they’ve filed requests for reviews of their new property market values.
Squilla (D-1st dist.) is looking for support from City Council’s other 16 members. He’s got some history doing that. In 2012, he said, he proposed postponing AVI’s implementation until this year. He said that, initially, he was alone, but eventually, council members voted to delay AVI.
Why the delay? Information about the total value of city properties was not complete in 2012, the councilman said.
“Thank God, we didn’t do it last year,” he said. “It would have been chaos.”
This year, Squilla said, council members are hearing about AVI mistakes from their constituents.
“I think there is more awareness of over- and underassessments,” he said. “And we don’t even know if these assessments are right. We all know this is going to take several years to get right.”
Mistakes were expected, Michael Piper, the Office of Property Assessment’s deputy administrator, said last month. And the city is ready to see some of the new assessments reduced. City Finance Director Rob Dubow last month said Nutter’s 2014 budget includes $32 million to cover tax revenues lost when new assessments are lowered.
Since AVI will take time, Squilla said, he feels implementing it should take some time, too.
“The problem is bigger than something we can do in just one year,” he said. “OPA says they’re going to go back every year until they get this right.”
Squilla needs eight more council members to support his phase-in measure, Bill 130254. If the measure passes 9-8, and then is vetoed by Mayor Michael Nutter, Squilla will have to find three more votes because it takes 12 votes to override a mayoral veto.
Kenyatta Johnson (D-2nd dist.) sees the problems Squilla sees.
“It’s insane to move forward with so many complaints of inaccurate assessments,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Northeast Times.
W. Wilson Goode Jr. (D-at large), however, doesn’t want to wait.
“Taxpayers who are due to receive a tax decrease because their properties were previously over-assessed should not have to wait for a lower bill,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Northeast Times.
Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez (D-7th dist.) wants to see how Squilla can make his proposal work.
“I agree conceptually that we have to minimize the impact for residents and will remain open to all ideas,” she wrote in an e-mail to the Northeast Times
First-level assessment reviews should be finished by August, Piper told Greater Bustleton Civic League members last month. Residents who don’t like those results can appeal to the Board of Revision of Taxes. The BRT likely will see the bulk of those appeals as the Oct. 7 deadline approaches, said Carla Pagan, the board’s executive director. Beforehand, she said, people who missed the April 1 OPA review request deadline might start contacting the BRT. ••
Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or firstname.lastname@example.org