City’s Chief Assessor Disappointed By Quality of AVI Appeals

Let’s start with the bad news about Philadelphia’s never-ending property assessment saga: Richie McKeithen, the city’s chief assessor, says that out of the approximately 31,000 appeals the city’s received, “a huge number” will not result in reduced assessments for those who filed.

Now the good news: Only 31,000–according to McKeithen–filed, which means the other 548,000 city property owners did not ask to have their new assessments reviewed.

This is not to say that AVI is out of the woods. Don’t expect City Controller Alan Butkovitz to quietly applaud McKeithen’s efforts. And don’t hold your breath waiting for a resolution in City Council that reads:

Whereas the City of Philadelphia has not made an attempt to correctly and fairly assess its properties since never; and whereas ridiculous assessment disparities between identical (not even similar) properties have always been commonplace; and whereas a sense of entitlement has developed among Philadelphians who pay taxes based on what their property was worth centuries ago; Philadelphia City Council hereby resolves that we all breathe a collective sigh of relief, because on the first shot at a citywide assessment, McKeithen and his team managed to keep the appeal rate pretty damn close to 5%.

Sittng in the OPA’s Curtis Center offices on Washington Square this week, the unassuming McKeithen was unable to conceal his disappointment in a significant number of the First Level Review forms he had seen. He cited many appellants who provided minimal documentation or no documentation at all. Others simply said they couldn’t afford to pay the taxes that the new assessments will bring. Many expressed their anger and did not spare curse words in doing so.

When asked how OPA will respond to the appeals that lacked the proper documentation, McKeithen–formerly chief assessor in Richmond, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.–paused and said, “They will get back a reply that simply says, ‘No change to your assessment.’”

Along with continuing to work their way through the reviews, McKeithen and the OPA staff of 170 (109 evaluators, 22 supervisors, 39 clerical) will soon send out the first wave of appellant response letters. Then it’ll be no time at all before City Councilmembers’ phones are ringing off the hook with calls from indignant taxpayers. And you can bet that those same Council members will be back in chambers calling attention to the inevitable but relatively small number of errors that occur when a city of 1,500,000 overcomes decades of inertia and finally does the right thing.