Property assessments headed home

Prop­erty own­ers can ex­pect to get their ac­tu­al value as­sess­ments in the mail this week, and the city’s fisc­al watch­dog pre­dicted there will plenty of win­ners and losers when it comes to pay­ing prop­erty taxes next year.

Most of the big losers, ac­cord­ing to City Con­trol­ler Alan Butkovitz’s ana­lys­is, won’t be in North­east Philly. Those who will see their prop­erty taxes jump the highest un­der the city’s Ac­tu­al Value Ini­ti­at­ive live in and around Cen­ter City, South Philly, parts of North Philly and the river wards.

City Coun­cil­wo­man Maria Quinones Sanc­hez (D-7th dist.) said she isn’t sur­prised that the North­east would es­cape largely un­scathed be­cause it has been over­assessed for years.

“The North­east’s prop­er­ties already are as­sessed at close to their ac­tu­al val­ues,” she said. “They’ve been sub­sid­iz­ing the rest of the city.”

Butkovitz based his ana­lys­is on a tax rate for 2014 set at $1,250 per $100,000 in as­sessed value, as May­or Nut­ter has asked in his dis­cus­sion with Coun­cil.

In the North­east’s 19116 and 19115 ZIP Codes — Somer­ton and Bustleton — the con­trol­ler pre­dicts tax de­creases. De­creases are ex­pec­ted, too, for res­id­ents in 19111, 19114, 19152 and 19136 — the neigh­bor­hoods of Fox Chase, Lawn­crest, Rhawn­hurst, Lex­ing­ton Park and Holmes­burg

De­creases in the North­east av­er­age from 0.5 per­cent to 11.6 per­cent.

But the North­east’s losers —those whose taxes will rise in 2014 — aren’t go­ing to be big losers, if the con­trol­ler’s pre­dic­tions are cor­rect. People who live in the Far North­east, 19154, are likely to see tax hikes av­er­aging $33, Butkovitz’s of­fice fore­cast.

That ZIP code is east of the Boulevard and above the Pennypack. It in­cludes, among oth­ers, Park­wood, Nor­mandy, Walton Park and Mill­brook. 

Pull Park­wood out and av­er­age it sep­ar­ately, however, and Park­wood res­id­ents will see $77 hikes. 

Single-fam­ily prop­erty own­ers in Lower North­east ZIPs of 19149, 19135 and 19124 also are ex­pec­ted to see their taxes in­crease. Those ZIPS in­clude Ta­cony, Frank­ford and North­wood. Butkovitz pre­dicted av­er­age taxes would rise in those neigh­bor­hoods, with in­creases av­er­aging between $11 and $33.

“It’s not as pain­ful as I had an­ti­cip­ated,” said City Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on (D-6th dist.). When coun­cil mem­bers were look­ing at AVI and pro­ject­ing tax rates last year, Hen­on said, the rate looked to be much high­er and its im­pact more ex­pens­ive.

Butkovitz’s staff’s pro­jec­tions were cal­cu­lated from the Of­fice of Prop­erty As­sess­ment re­cords. The num­bers would change, based on the tax mil­lage rate.

Butkovitz  has ar­gued that the rate should be set lower, but, he pre­dicted, high­er is more likely. The rate, he said, “is a mov­ing tar­get.”

“We have been push­ing for the low­est pos­sible rate, and this rate has been go­ing down in re­sponse to pres­sure,” he said in a phone in­ter­view on Feb. 14.

City Coun­cil­man Bri­an O’Neill (R-10th dist.) on Fri­day said a 1.21 mil­lage rate might still be pos­sible.

However, if the tax rate con­tin­ues to move down, the city would have to in­crease its rev­en­ues with oth­er taxes. 

“If I was in the North­east, I wouldn’t be rest­ing easy just by read­ing the con­trol­ler’s re­port. No one knows what the fi­nal tax rate will be,” said City Coun­cil­man Bill Green (D-at large). 

And basing an ana­lys­is on an av­er­age change can “present a very skewed pic­ture be­cause a few prop­er­ties can have an un­bal­an­cing ef­fect” on an en­tire area, Green ad­ded. 

Coun­cil mem­bers are sub­ject to cross-pres­sures from with­in their con­stitu­en­cies, Butkovitz said. Res­id­ents of areas in which taxes will rise the most will seek re­lief, and whatever re­lief is put in­to law, Butkovitz said, will push the over­all tax rate up.

The most com­monly men­tioned re­lief is a $30,000 homestead ex­emp­tion. For res­id­ents who live in their prop­er­ties, $30,000 would be cut from the new as­sess­ment be­fore the tax rate is ap­plied.

An­oth­er is a “means-based” gentri­fic­a­tion re­lief for people on fixed in­comes whose prop­erty val­ues have skyrock­eted. Also, Quinones Sanc­hez said if state le­gis­lat­ors al­low Phil­adelphia to go after the out-of-the-city as­sets of tax-de­lin­quent prop­erty own­ers, that would be a big be­ne­fit to the city.

The big­ger com­mer­cial prop­er­ties that already are as­sessed close to ac­tu­al value will see tax de­creases, but the own­ers of small busi­ness prop­er­ties likely will see their taxes go up, Quinones Sanc­hez  said in a phone in­ter­view.

“Com­mer­cial/In­dus­tri­al prop­erty have typ­ic­ally been bet­ter and more fre­quently as­sessed un­der the old sys­tem,” Green stated in an e-mail to the North­east Times on Fri­day. 

“As a res­ult,” Green con­tin­ued, un­der the re­as­sess­ment, there will be a shift of roughly $200 mil­lion from the com­mer­cial/in­dus­tri­al base to the res­id­en­tial base. State Rep. Cher­elle Park­er and [the Phil­adelphia] del­eg­a­tion in Har­ris­burg are work­ing to change the Con­sti­tu­tion and al­low us to tax dif­fer­ent types of prop­erty at dif­fer­ent rates.”

That kind of con­sti­tu­tion­al change, Green said, would take at least a few years.

Butkovitz sees the res­id­en­tial own­ers pay­ing 60 per­cent of the city’s total prop­erty taxes un­der AVI. They now pay 54 per­cent of the total. 

O’Neill said the re­as­sess­ments mailed to res­id­ents on Fri­day also be­came avail­able the same day at the Of­fice of Prop­erty As­sess­ment’s Web site. The site’s ad­dress is avical­cu­lat­ 

Jeff Horn­stein ana­lyzed the AVI num­bers for Butkovitz. Ac­cord­ing to his fig­ures, 169,360 of the city’s 450,798 single-fam­ily prop­er­ties, or 38 per­cent, will see tax de­creases un­der AVI.  He figured that 275,700 will see tax hikes. Most in­creases will be $400 or less, but 36,838 will see in­creases of $1,000 or more. ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or


Here is the ex­pec­ted im­pact on prop­erty taxes in the North­east in 2014 when the new as­sess­ments are used and a tax rate of $1,250 per $100,000 in valu­ation is ap­plied:

By ZIP Codes

19111 – de­crease $127

19114 – de­crease $193

19115 – de­crease $323

19116 – de­crease $248

19136 – de­crease $9

19152 – de­crease $108

19124 – in­crease $27

19135 – in­crease $33

19149 – in­crease $11

19154 – in­crease $33

By se­lec­ted North­east neigh­bor­hoods: 

Bustleton – de­crease $332, or 11.6 per­cent

Fox Chase – de­crease $155, or 6 per­cent

Holmes­burg – de­crease $120, or 6.7 per­cent

Lawn­crest – de­crease $43, or 3 per­cent

May­fair – de­crease $23, or 1.3 per­cent

Ox­ford Circle – de­crease $19, or 1.2 per­cent

Park­wood – in­crease $77, or 3.6 per­cent

Rhawn­hurst – de­crease $171, or 7.3 per­cent

Somer­ton – de­crease $184, or 6.9 per­cent

Source: Alan Butkovitz.

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