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Reassessment Plan Prompts Council Concerns

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Richie McKeithen (right) and staff address Philadelphia City Council in April, 2011. (Credit: Steve Tawa)

Richie McKeithen (right) and staff address Philadelphia City Council in April, 2011. (Credit: Steve Tawa)

Mike Dunn Mike Dunn
Mike Dunn is City Hall bureau chief for KYW Newsradio 1060. He covers...
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By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Mayor Nutter’s plan to reassess every single property in Philadelphia came under the microscope during a City Council hearing, with lawmakers voicing concern that longtime residents may face ‘sticker shock’ at year’s end.

In the hot seat during the hearing was Ritchie McKeithen, director of the Office of Property Assessment, which is in the midst of a reassessment of every single building in the city. Several council members openly wondered how accurate the new assessments will be.

READ: CBS Philly’s Complete Coverage Of Mayor Nutter’s Property Tax Reassessment Plan

McKeithen said, very much, “We have statistical measures, after we’re done with our reassessment, to demonstrate the quality of it. We’re using industry standards and industry techniques that other assessment offices around the country use.”

Another concern voiced by lawmakers was whether longtime residents — including those who may have inherited homes — will be hurt by the change, particularly in gentrified neighborhoods.

“It’s those neighborhoods that are primarily blue collar that are experiencing this uptick in property value because of the desirability of living in the city. Those people are going to be the sticker shock folks,” says Councilman-at-large Jim Kenney.

Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown told McKeithen that he needs to get the word out. “Go to every single senior citizen center in the city and tell the story of what’s about to happen, and how and if it may — or may not — impact their world.”

McKeithen, though, didn’t mince words about that potential impact: virtually all properties will see higher values since there hasn’t been a citywide assessment in years.  “Even the most basic house will now sell for a price that is much higher than what it used to sell for.”

The mayor’s Finance Director, Rob Dubow, testified that the Administration plans to phase-in any property tax increases over three years, and is also hoping for state approval of homestead exemptions to ease the hit.

Getting that word out, Dubow said, is in the plans. “We’re looking at bringing in outside firms to help us communicate the message, so people know what’s available to them (in terms of assistance) and what this actually might or might not mean to them.”

Councilmember Cindy Bass was astounded to learn the assessors go out to look at homes with only pen and paper.

“It’s a little bit troubling and scary that we’re undertaking such a huge process and we don’t send folks out with iPads or PDA’s or anything!  They’ve got a notepad!”

The mayor’s plan to move to the new assessment system, dubbed the “Actual Value Initiative,” has also come under fire because of Nutter’s insistence that it would be used to bring in an extra $90-million for the cash-starved School District.  Critics call that aspect a “back-door tax increase” and insist the move to AVI be done in a manner that is revenue-neutral.

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