Northeast Times

Council committee OKs break for assessment appeals

A City Coun­cil com­mit­tee last week un­an­im­ously ap­proved a meas­ure that would ab­solve prop­erty own­ers who lose as­sess­ment ap­peals of in­terest pay­ments on their 2014 taxes.

Coun­cil’s Com­mit­tee of the Whole also un­an­im­ously ap­proved changes in an or­din­ance that freezes eli­gible seni­or cit­izens’ prop­erty taxes. The change makes it easy for them to stay in the pro­gram if their taxes go down in 2014 and also auto­mat­ic­ally signs them up for homestead ex­emp­tions in their tax bills.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion of May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter has no prob­lem with the “seni­or freeze” bill sponsored by City Coun­cil­man Bri­an O’Neill (R-10th dist.), Fin­ance Dir­ect­or Rob Dubow told the 14 coun­cil mem­bers who met in com­mit­tee May 22. 

But Dubow un­suc­cess­fully tried to per­suade coun­cil mem­bers to scratch a bill that would not re­quire those who lose ap­peals of their as­sess­ments to pay in­terest on taxes while see­ing those ap­peals through.

Such a break, Dubow said, would spur “frivol­ous ap­peals” by own­ers who know they will not win those ac­tions. 

“It could serve to dra­mat­ic­ally in­crease ap­peals,” Dubow said, and that would cut in­to the city’s tax flow.

Not re­quir­ing los­ing ap­pel­lants to cough up in­terest on what they didn’t pay while await­ing a de­cision by the Board of Re­vi­sion of Taxes amounts to the city giv­ing them in­terest-free loans, said Budget Dir­ect­or Re­becca Rhynhart. She said giv­ing los­ing ap­pel­lants a slide on in­terest provides an in­cent­ive to ap­peal. 

Ap­peal­ing an as­sess­ment, there­fore, be­comes “the smart thing to do,” she said.

Coun­cil­man Mark Squilla (D-1st dist.), the meas­ure’s spon­sor, countered that 2014 will be a dif­fer­ent year be­cause it will be the first time taxes will be cal­cu­lated by us­ing new city­wide re­as­sess­ment val­ues. And for that reas­on, for 2014 and that year alone, tax­pay­ers de­serve some slack, Squilla said.

Many prop­erty own­ers will ap­peal their new as­sess­ments be­cause they don’t think they’re ac­cur­ate, Squilla said.

“We want to make sure we pro­tect our res­id­ents,” Squilla said.

Coun­cil­men Bill Green­lee (D-at large) and Curtis Jones Jr. (D-4th dist.) both said 2014 will not be a nor­mal year.

“It’s an out­lier as op­posed to the norm,” Jones said. Squilla’s bill “lets us err on the side of the tax­pay­ers,” he said.

So far, al­most 50,000 prop­erty own­ers have filed for first-level re­views with the Of­fice of Prop­erty As­sess­ment, Dubow said. He said there might be thou­sands of prop­erty own­ers who are not sat­is­fied with OPA re­view and take their dis­sat­is­fac­tion to the next level by ap­peal­ing the as­sess­ments to the BRT. Some might skip the first-level re­view pro­cess. Last month, Carla Pa­gan, the BRT’s ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or, told Coun­cil that she’s ex­pect­ing ap­peals to come with­in a large range —10,000 to as much as 50,000.

Giv­en that the BRT has a small staff and usu­ally handles no more than a couple thou­sand ap­peals per year, all those ap­peals could take time, which means in­terest could mount up.

Coun­cil mem­bers poin­ted out the Nut­ter ad­min­is­tra­tion has set aside $30 mil­lion in the 2014 budget to cov­er the costs of ap­peals won by prop­erty own­ers and that some of that money could be used to make up lost cash flow while ap­peals are pending. 

Des­pite Dobow’s ob­jec­tions, the mem­bers present re­com­men­ded the bill for a coun­cil vote. Both meas­ures will go be­fore the full Coun­cil for a vote June 6. ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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