Another bill aims to get Phila. tax assessors certified

For now, Philadelphia's property-tax assessors get special treatment. But they might not for long.

Unlike property-tax assessors in every other county in Pennsylvania, Philly assessors aren't required to be state-certified to determine the values of people's homes.

State Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Phila., introduced a bill yesterday requiring city assessors to obtain a state certificate. It would make assessing a property without a state certificate a third-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a $2,500 fine and/or up to a year in jail.

"The property-tax system in Philadelphia has not been helped by the lack of properly trained assessors," said Farnese.

This summer, the city's Office of Property Assessment began determining the full market values of local homes, many of which are now assessed inaccurately. Farnese's bill, if it passes, would not necessarily affect that process, because assessors would have four years to become certified.

State Rep. Curtis Thomas, D- Phila., introduced a bill earlier this year in the House that would require that Philadelphia assessors become certified. But the bill has been stalled since June.

An assessor must take 90 hours of classes on real-estate valuation, pass a comprehensive test, and take continuing-education courses in order to become a "certified Pennsylvania evaluator."

Farnese said that he was prompted to introduce the legislation after an It's Our Money report found that many employees in the city's Office of Property Assessment (OPA) were not certified. Richie McKeithen, chief assessment officer for OPA, said that the OPA requires that all new city assessors, as well as current assessors who change positions, become certified within two years.

He also said that the city is paying for the costs of the certificate courses and exam.

Follow us on Twitter and review city services on our sister site, City Howl.