An automated Philly311 telephone call invited Anthony Mathis to the Joseph E. Coleman Northwest Regional Library in Germantown on Thursday to discuss his property assessment with officials from the Mayor’s office.
Mathis arrived at 5:30 p.m. and waited about 90 minutes to talk about his property as nearly 100 residents crammed inside a Chelten Avenue library branch room for the city’s AVI outreach session.
There, Mathis explained what brought him out.
“Sure, real-estate taxes have been the same for 20 years. They only have gone up a few dollars here or there,” he said, “but mine have tripled value-wise. I figure, hey, maybe it should have went up, definitely. I don’t mind paying more taxes, but for them to at one time, go up four times the rate, is another thing.”
He was not alone
Ester Hodges Hailey and Sylvia Hicks, who also arrived a half an hour early, were frustrated by the order in which people were called back by Nathaniel Morrison, supervisor of the Mayor’s community engagement unit, to discuss individual property assessments at the 6 p.m. meeting.
“There’s no order,” Hailey shouted. “I’m not leaving because that’s what they want you to do.”
Hicks suggested that the next meeting should be held in a larger place and divided by zip code. She also suggested the city establish an office where residents could go during the day to seek information.
For her part, Julia S. Brooks of East Mount Airy decried the public-notice timing, as the sessions were announced on Tuesday.
“You don’t give somebody just one day,” she said. “You’re dealing with older people. And I can’t understand why my councilperson isn’t here.”
City asks for patience
Mayor Michael Nutter’s spokesman, Mark McDonald, was there to address the property owners who assembled.
“The message that I want to give everyone out here tonight is — we’re starting early. We’re going to be able to talk to you about what your concerns are, get information from you and the process will go well into the fall,” he said. “So I don’t want folks to be worried. I hope you’re not going to be too angry. You’ve got a certain level of right about it. There’s more people than we thought would be here tonight and I apologize for that.”
Many people chanted that the mayor and city councilmembers should have been at the meeting, which occurred at the same time as the School Reform Commission hearing about school closures.
“It’s not a political thing,” McDonald told Newsworks. “This is a practical try to help people … a process that will not even get to a conclusion in October.
“This is front loaded to start helping people. It’s a little bit awesome tonight in terms of numbers. We will address this going forward, I assure you.”
First in a series of 20
Thursday night’s meeting was the first of 20 community meetings that will help homeowners understand property assessments, or AVI.
Suzanne Biemiller, the Mayor’s first deputy chief of staff, was one of 15 volunteers who met with individuals about their property’s proposed valuation.
“Questions that we are hearing tonight are no surprise,” she said. “People see their assessments going up and assume that their taxes are going to go up. But what we’ve been able to show a lot of people tonight is that their taxes are actually going to go down despite the new assessment.
“I think people are happy to get some questions answered and get some real information and direct people to resources, but also reassure them in many cases, their taxes are going to go down and that’s a nice thing to hear on a Thursday night.”
Many of the people at the meeting were senior citizens. McDonald told property owners that some can qualify for the homestead exemption — a real-estate tax-savings measure.
“The city has spent two years developing a fair and equitable system of deciding property values,” McDonald said. “We believe it is far better than what has existed in the past. Roughly 40 percent of the people who got assessments under this new system will see their tax bill either stay the same or go down.”
The next community meeting is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday at Ss Neumann Goretti High School, 1736 S. 10th St.