City Council grills Nutter administration over property assessments

In the hot seat for the second day of budget hearings Tuesday was the Office of Property Assessments --the department tasked with reassessing every property in the city.

City Council held no punches and grilled the Nutter administration on how parcels were assessed, why some assessments appear to be out of whack and the progress of outreach efforts to inform residents about the new property-tax system based on market values, the Actual Value Initiative. 

OPA has been working to reassess all 579,000 properties for the last two years. Assessment notices were mailed out in March and residents who will likely see dramatic increases to their tax bills under AVI have been up in arms.

As Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. has said, many members have taken an AVI "butt whooping" at a series of community meetings on the subject where residents demanded answers as to how OPA determined assessments.

Chief Assessment Officer Richie McKeithen said OPA analyzed over 86,000 recorded sales transactions for the last five years, preliminary statistics and relevant permits. Field inspections began in 2011 and OPA went inside 10 to 15 percent of the properties.

Many members though like Council president Darrell Clarke wondered how OPA could go into a neighborhood like Francisville, a gentrifying area and not go inside each house where amenities may differ drastically.

McKeithen said that anyone who disagrees with their assessment can file a first level review with OPA. The deadline is March 31 or 30 days after an assessment is received. OPA has recieved about 16,500 requests for first level review.

Concerns were also raised over whether OPA will be able to sift through the requests for review in time for residents to file appeals with the Board of Revision of Taxes. The administration has said they have been informing the public that appeals can be made at anytime with OPA.

Some members complained about a perceived lack of communication between the administration and Council.

"I don't think district Council people were brought in early in the process then we get into arguments about tax collections and the issue spins out of control and we cant have normal conversations," said Councilman Jim Kenney.

City Finance Director Rob Dubow said Council members received information as soon as the administration compiled it.

Council has until the end of June to debate how best to protect property owners under AVI. But members worried that information about protections like the homestead exemption which provides relief for homeowners was not reaching those who need it most.