Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration has prided itself on being open and transparent.
But a coalition of 22 civic groups said it’s being anything but when it comes to the city’s new property-tax assessments. The figures are the cornerstone of Nutter’s Actual Value Initiative, his plan to fix Philadelphia’s old, error-ridden assessments.
Stephen Huntington, coordinator of the Crosstown Coalition of Taxpayers, said city officials have refused to explain how they came up with the new assessments.
“We want to know whether the AVI reassessments were done properly within acceptable industry standards, and to do this, we need to know the methodologies and formulas,” he said. “We want sunlight, but we have been kept in the dark.”
The group, which includes the Center City Residents’ Association, Queen Village Neighbors Association and East Kensington Neighbors Association, said it will call for AVI to be delayed if it doesn’t get more information. The group also raised questions about the accuracy of the assessments, calling them “nowhere near the industry standard” according to its own preliminary analysis.
Council members Mark Squilla, James Kenney, Jannie Blackwell and Kenyatta Johnson attended the group’s Tuesday news conference.
Mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said the new property assessments are a huge improvement over past ones, which were widely considered inaccurate. He also said the city didn’t use “formulas” to calculate the values.
“There are statistical models,” he said, “and there is the expertise of evaluators who do sales validation work that, in essence, scrubs the data of sales that are not arm’s-length or accurate vis-à-vis the actual value of the property.”
He added that owners can learn more about how their properties were assessed by asking the city for a first-level review, though the deadline for that has already passed for most people. Property owners still can appeal to the Board of Revision of Taxes.