A coalition of Philadelphia civic organizations, including several from the River Wards, has criticized the recent citywide AVI reassessment, calling it flawed and saying it has undervalued the most expensive properties while it overvalued the least expensive.
During a news conference May 22 in City Council’s caucus room, members of the Crosstown Coalition of Taxpayers said they support the concept behind the Actual Value Initiative, which, said coalition chairman Stephen Huntington, the citizens should expect will transparently make the city’s property assessments fairer and more accurate.
“None of those expectations have been met,” he said, adding later AVI should be redone. “AVI failed not by a whisker, but by a mile.”
EKNA, FNA, NLNA and ORCA are members of the Crosstown Coalition.
It’s clear the Office of Property Assessment has more work to do, said Walter Spencer, who analyzed the data and prepared the coalition’s report.
What’s flawed, said Mark McDonald, Mayor Michael Nutter’s spokesman, is drawing such conclusions from data that is incomplete and not designed for the analysis the coalition attempted.
The data the taxpayers’ group used is the same used by economist Robert Strauss, who McDonald said recently prepared a similarly flawed report for City Controller Alan Butkovitz.
Richie McKeithen, the city’s chief assessor, said the data the coalition and Strauss used is information the Office of Property Assessment distributed to the public for informational purposes.
“It’s general information,” McKeithen said in a May 23 phone interview. “Who owns what, where it is located, its value.”
Anyone who wants to do an accurate analysis of assessments, McKeithen said, should go to the assessor and see how that is done.
Huntingdon complained that it is difficult to get information from OPA.
Both McDonald and McKeithen said AVI is open and transparent.
Huntingdon added that the coalition wants to meet with OPA officials.
“We would love to sit across the table with OPA and compare data,” he said.
McKeithen said May 23 that he is trying to make arrangements to sit down with coalition members. Spencer said he would welcome such a meeting.
Some of the main points of the coalition’s report are:
—The range of assessment errors is several times higher than the 13.9 percent the city says it is.
—Homes priced above $1 million are assessed below their market values.
—Homes with sale prices under $50,600 are assessed at more than twice their market values. “The less well-to-do are being asked to pay more.”
—The two dozen largest office buildings in the city are assessed at 70 to 85 percent of their market values.
“I think it should be thrown out. Start over and do it the right way,” Councilman Kenyatta Johnson (D-2nd dist.) said at the May 22 news conference.
The next day, McKeithen called AVI a “quality reassessment.”
“We have replaced an old system with something that is much better,” he said.
Is there some work still to do? Yes, he and McDonald said. Subsequent assessments will build on previously assembled data and get better.
Part of the process will be developing the public’s understanding of AVI, McKeithen said. That might take two or three years.
Councilman Mark Squilla (D-1st dist.), who prefers phasing in AVI over a few years, praised the coalition and its work.
“This was done by residents,” he said. “It has credibility.”
McKeithen said that even with more complete data, the coalition couldn’t duplicate OPA’s professional assessment.
“But I applaud the people for trying,” ••
Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.