Councilman Jones’ assistant discusses AVI with Wissahickon civic, details relief measures

With Actual Value Initiative assessments now in the hands of residents and business owners, members of Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr.’s staff are out in the neighborhoods to gauge concerns and offer assistance.

On Monday night, Joshua Cohen, special assistant to the Fourth District Councilman, was at the Wissahickon Neighbors Civic Association meeting to speak with community members about AVI.

The results of AVI have been on the Councilman’s mind for some time: In February, before the results were distributed to property owners, Jones referred to AVI as being “the elephant in the room.”

At that time, Jones observed that the Fourth District would fare comparatively well, with assessments being relatively neutral and stable, the result of fairly accurate property values due to consistent sales activity.

Despite this, Jones said the Ridge Ave. commercial corridor, some of which lies within WNCA’s boundaries, was foremost on his mind, as the stability of the area may work against it: many properties have been owned for extended periods of time, which could result in some sticker shock when the AVI figures are released.

“We had feared the worst, but that ship has sailed,” Jones remarked last month. “The next level is how to protect those still in jeopardy.”

Appeal and relief measures 

While the actual financial impacts of AVI assessments are not fully known at present – City Council will need to determine the exact “millage,” or taxation, rates – Cohen reminded residents that appeal and possible relief measures are available to them.

First and foremost, a “homestead exemption,” which could offer as much as a $30,000 reduction of one’s assessment, is available to homeowners for their primary residence. Cohen noted that the application deadline has been extended through July 31.

For those with concerns about being over-assessed, Cohen reminded residents of three levels of appeal available to them: a first-level review, which would result in a physical reassessment of one’s homes; a formal review by the Board of Revision of Taxes, applications for which are due to the BRT by the first Monday in October. The Court of Common Pleas would serve as the final available process.

WNCA President Andrew Bantly suggested to residents that a professional, independent assessment would be of benefit to those wishing to appeal.

A workshop to assist residents will be held by the city and Fourth District staff at the Roxborough Memorial Hospital on March 23 to assist residents in filing paperwork for the first level of review by its March 31 deadline.

Cohen was quick to note that while guidance would be provided for residents, staffers at the event would not be able to explain how individual assessments were determined.

‘There are a lot of unknown factors’ 

Concerns from residents were wide-ranging, varying from broad indictments of the entire initiative to specific concerns about personal residences. When some of this ire was directed at City Council for their presumed complicity, Cohen was compelled to remind some residents that AVI was a mayoral prerogative.

Countering charges that City Council was already in possession of budget figures and taxation rates, Cohen responded that the annual city budget process has not started, but will begin in earnest with the coming budget address by Mayor Michael Nutter.

Apprehensions were also voiced about the comparative values of homes within a neighborhood, with residents unsure of the values of their neighbor’s homes. Bantly reminded those in attendance that all home values and taxation records are available online on city websites.

Asked if there were any initiatives to reduce the burden on seniors, Cohen said he expects that bills supporting such a measure will be considered by council.

Despite the variety of concerns expressed, Cohen reminded those in attendance to withhold judgment about their actual taxes.

“Just because your assessment may triple doesn’t mean your taxes will triple,” he said in an example. “I can’t emphasize that enough – there are a lot of unknown factors.”

Noting that aspects of AVI weren’t “set in stone,” Bantly encouraged WNCA members to pay attention to due process and to file appeals, to which Cohen pledged his assistance.

“The Actual Value Initiative is happening,” observed Cohen. “It’s here now, and we’re going to try to make sure that everybody sees as little impact as possible.”

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