City Picking Up the Pace on Tax Collection

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

For the first time since Mayor Nutter took office, the City of Philadelphia made significant, measurable progress over the past 18 months in its long-running fight against the property tax delinquency epidemic.

The total debt owed the city and School District of Philadelphia in unpaid property taxes fell over the past year, edging down $10 million between April 2013 and April 2014, according to a Philadelphia magazine and PlanPhilly analysis of city tax data. The total number of property tax deadbeats declined as well, dipping about 1,400 over the same period.

To be sure, the gains are modest given the massive scale of property tax delinquency in Philadelphia; nearly 96,000 delinquent parcels and $512 million owed, figures that dwarf those in all other big cities except Detroit.

But it’s notable nonetheless that the city managed to stop — for a time at least — the spread of tax delinquency (the epidemic has grown quickly in most years of the Nutter administration), and more notable still that the city is now reducing the total amount owed.

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Morning Headlines: Daily News Trumpets Mini AVI Results

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Philly.com has a story today that offers mixed messages about the results of the Actual Value Initiative, the property tax program that was put into place to fix a broken system. What was broken about it? The assessments were all wrong, and many of them were wrong because they were too low. Many homeowners were paying property taxes that were dreamy and terrific because they were a pittance, and that was great for them. But they were not an accurate reflection of the marketplace of the value of their home. A program to reassess was a long time coming, but it was Mayor Nutter who finally had the cojones to make it happen.

Now philly.com has two headlines (for a single story) that are sure to piss people off, but not for the right reasons.

Headline No. 1: Thousands of Philly home owners missing out on tax break
Headline No. 2: Final score on AVI: 54 percent received property tax increases

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Mayor Nutter Announces LOOP-y Property Tax Relief Program

LOOP brochure cover

The city’s new tax relief program, PHL Tax LOOP, is part snappy acronym; LOOP stands for Longtime Owner Occupants Program (oh, to have been a fly on the wall during City Hall acronym idea meetings). Those people who have owned their property since at least 2003 and are up to date on their property taxes are eligible, as long as the property hasn’t ever had a tax abatement.

There are income requirements and specs for what kind of properties qualify for the tax break, but based on the city’s preliminary estimates, 80,000 properties are eligible. Those 80,000 will get info packets in the mail, but if you don’t receive one automatically, that doesn’t mean you aren’t eligible.

Nutter’s statement indicates his acknowledgement of one of the few AVI hiccups: “Our new property tax system is fair and accurate for all Philadelphians – but fairer and more accurate values meant large Real Estate Tax increases for some homeowners.”

Advocates of AVI prior to its implementation claimed that such inequities would ultimately get resolved — precisely with programs of this kind. It should certainly help.

For more information, go to the city’s LOOP site or call 215-686-9200.

Wilson Goode Jr. Gets Radical About Property Taxes

GoodeLG1A tax abatement — an exemption from paying taxes on a property for a given number of years — seems like a pretty terrific perk. Who wouldn’t want an abatement? But the notion gets complex in neighborhoods “in transition” — places where property taxes are going up for longtime residents and new construction for new residents comes with an abatement in place.

The abatements also complicate the school funding picture, as they reduce the amount of money that goes to the District.

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Homeowners! Friday the 13th Approaches, and It May Be Your Lucky Day

Grant_Wood_-_American_Gothic_-_Google_Art_Project-1Warning: What you are about to see is real.

FRIDAY IS THE FINAL DEADLINE FOR THE HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION APPLICATION.

If you don’t know what we’re talking about, allow us to channel the City of Philadelphia for just a moment (including its awkward capitalizations):

What is the Homestead Exemption?
The Homestead Exemption offers Real Estate Tax savings to all Philadelphia homeowners by reducing the taxable portion of their property assessment by $30,000, starting in Tax Year 2014.

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City Will Host Two Telephone Town Halls to Answer Questions About AVI

Should residents still have questions about the changes to their property taxes, the City will try to clarify matters during the course of two Telephone Town Hall meetings hosted by city officials. This is a great opportunity to take the mayor at his word:

“Our Administration has been working diligently to ensure that every citizen understands the changes at hand and participates in the relief measures available to them, especially the Homestead Exemption. These Telephone Town Halls, like the information sessions earlier this year, are critical to creating a dialogue and keeping the public engaged.”

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AVI: The Horror Isn’t So Horrible, But Here’s Some Information for What Horror There Is

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We haven’t spoken about AVI in a while, which seemed to be for the best because the mere mention of the acronym was enough to spur hysteria. For a time, it had people running in the streets, though the mayor said it had to be done because–among other reasons–the district needed the money to save our schools.

So it was done. Like zombies becoming human again, the hysterical people returned to sanity and went inside their reassessed homes and shut it. The schools crumbled anyway because–and I don’t mean to discredit AVI, which I believe in–the School District needs so much more than the reassessments could promise.

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Alan Butkovitz Wins Primary, It’s Now Time for Him to Act Like a Grownup

Butkovitz-MandellThe choices, realistically, were current City Controller Alan Butkovitz and challenger Brett Mandel. They had significant differences of opinion about many things, but they both drew especially stark lines in the sand regarding the Actual Value Initiative (AVI), the city’s property reassessment program meant to correct years of preposterously incorrect property values.

Butkovitz was extremely critical of the plan, and recently paid an outside consultant almost $30,000 to assess the assessments. That consultant found that the process was carried out with good intentions but ultimately ineffective. Butkovitz made great hay out of this result prior to the election, which made some in the media suspicious of his motivations. After all, that almost $30,000 was paid for by the taxpayers.

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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.

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