Groups Call for AVI Fairness, Accuracy, More Information

Mayor Michael Nutter and the City Council must find a way to deal with AVI, the city's new suggested property tax system.

A coalition of civic associations today questioned the accuracy of a citywide reassessment key to Mayor Nutter’s property tax reform, the Actual Value Initiative (AVI), saying that its own preliminary analysis found the reassessment to be “not even close” to industry standards.

Members of the Crosstown Coalition of Taxpayers, who called a news conference before Council began hearing public testimony on the budget this afternoon, also complained that the city’s Office of Property Assessment had not released enough information to determine how the reassessment was conducted.

OPA has said the reassessments were on average within 13.9 percent of sales deemed to be arms-length transactions and good indicators of the true market value of property. The industry standard is to be within a 15 percent deviation.

Coalition members complained they could not replicate those results without more information from OPA.

“The problem is that it doesn’t matter if someone gives you the ingredients if they don’t give you the recipe,” said Matt Ruben, a member of the coalition and head of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association.

The coalition called for the formation of a commission of experts that could meet with OPA officials. Without more information, coalition members said they would recommend delaying the implementation of AVI.

“We want sunlight but we have been kept in the dark,” said Stephen Huntington, who convened the group.

Delaying AVI would be difficult, since Council passed a law last year requiring the city to move to the actual value system this year, and not doing so would require state permission.

The coalition plans to release a full report on its analysis of the reassessment in about two weeks – even while recognizing it's volunteer analysts haven’t had full access to OPA’s methodology.

The coalition includes 22 neighborhood civic associations, nearly all of them representing wealthier areas of the city facing hefty tax hikes under AVI.

Four Council members attended the coalition’s news conference – Mark Squilla, Kenyatta Johnson, Jannie L. Blackwell and James F. Kenney. The districts represented by Squilla and Johnson would be the hardest hit by tax hikes, and Kenney, an at-large member, lives in and has a base of support in a South Philadelphia neighborhood facing higher taxes.

The majority of homeowners in Blackwell’s West Philadelphia district would benefit from AVI, according to a recent Council staff analysis, but she also represents wealthier, growing areas of University City.

In other parts of the city, particularly in the Northeast, the vast majority of property owners would get tax breaks under AVI, after over-paying for years under the old, broken property tax system.

A second advocacy group, Fight for Philly, also held a news conference this afternoon, ahead of public budget testimony. That group called for “tax fairness” – putting more of the property tax burden on “big corporate landlords,” reducing the 10-year tax abatement on rehabs and new construction, freezing city wage tax deductions and other measures.

Anne Gemmell, from Fight for Philly, said the city should be raising revenue to “invest in quality of life,” such as city schools and parks.

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