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. ••