Editorial (February 27, 2013)

 AVI: All Very In­ter­est­ing

May­or Nut­ter calls the long-needed over­haul of the city’s prop­erty tax sys­tem the Ac­tu­al Value Ini­ti­at­ive or AVI.

Those three ini­tials could just as eas­ily stand for something else — All Very In­ter­est­ing. Be­cause between now and this spring when City Coun­cil ad­opts a tax rate and de­cides wheth­er to of­fer tax re­lief to some homeown­ers, the howls of protest, horse trad­ing and arm twist­ing that is likely to oc­cur will be just that — All Very In­ter­est­ing.

Rob Dubow, the city’s dir­ect­or of fin­ance, says that about 40 per­cent of Phil­adelphia homeown­ers could see their prop­erty taxes de­crease un­der the new sys­tem. An­oth­er 20 per­cent might see their taxes rise by $500 or less, and less than 10 per­cent might face in­creases of more than $1,000. 

With a low tax rate, prop­erty taxes in North­east Philly are ex­pec­ted to de­cline slightly un­der AVI, ac­cord­ing to City Con­trol­ler Alan Butkovitz. This is good news, but it also means that North­east homeown­ers have been sub­sid­iz­ing oth­er sec­tions of the city, where as­sess­ments have not kept pace with rising prop­erty val­ues.

Over the last two years, city as­sessors have re-eval­u­ated 597,000 prop­er­ties. There are bound to be mis­takes, as Re­altor Chris Ar­tur claims in col­or­ful lan­guage in this week’s cov­er pack­age. But elec­ted of­fi­cials are to be com­men­ded for even tack­ling as­sess­ments — a polit­ic­al por­cu­pine. And the city has done a good job of mak­ing it easy for res­id­ents to ask for a re­view of their as­sess­ments. 

As the may­or and City Coun­cil move for­ward on AVI, they should take an all-things-con­sidered ap­proach. How can the city col­lect more de­lin­quent taxes? What ex­emp­tions — homestead, for ex­ample — make the most sense? 

Is it time to re­duce tax-abate­ment pro­grams for new con­struc­tion? Could big non-profits that are ex­empt from prop­erty taxes be per­suaded to pay a Good Cit­izen levy in­stead?

All of these ques­tions need to be part of the de­bate in the months ahead. What is most im­port­ant is that we do not lose sight of the goal — hav­ing a mod­ern sys­tem of prop­erty as­sess­ments with fig­ures that are more ac­cur­ate, uni­form and fair. To get there, our elec­ted lead­ers would do well to keep in mind yet an­oth­er pos­sible mean­ing for AVI — Abate Ves­ted In­terests. •• 

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