Nutter seeks protection for Philadelphia under new property valuation plan

Posted: September 29, 2011

The Nutter administration says it will need several changes in state law to protect Philadelphia taxpayers from unintended property-tax hikes when the city moves to a 100 percent valuation system next year.

At a half-hour meeting in Harrisburg Wednesday morning with about half of Philadelphia's 25-member legislative delegation, Nutter and city Finance Director Rob Dubow outlined the city's progress in trying to determine accurate market value assessments for 577,000 city real estate parcels.

The administration hopes to complete the reassessments in time for notices of the new valuations to be sent to taxpayers next fall. The tax-burden realignment is expected to fall heaviest on more expensive neighborhoods, where current assessments are generally too low.

But City Council will have to reduce tax rates across the board to maintain the same general level of city and School District revenue.

Nutter suggested three modifications in Pennsylvania's real estate tax laws to ease the transition. Two would allow the city to adjust the School District millage rate downward to account for increased assessments.

A third seeks state authorization for a "homestead exemption" program allowing the city to provide some tax relief for low-income and senior homeowners, based on exempting some flat portion of their assessments. City lawmakers have said they want flexibility to protect at least some homeowners from exorbitant increases.

"All other Pennsylvania jurisdictions have this authority, but the city currently does not," the administration said in a fact sheet distributed to lawmakers.

Nutter also asked the city's delegation to support a new panel to consider assessment appeals, replacing the last vestiges of the Board of Revision of Taxes.

In a November 2009 referendum, Philadelphia voters replaced the Board of Revision with two new entities, the Office of Property Assessment, to make initial determinations of property values; and the Board of Assessment Appeals, to hear from property owners appealing those valuations.

The members of the old Board of Revision of Taxes, appointed by the city's judges, filed suit over the changes. The Supreme Court eventually upheld the new assessment agency but said the BRT should continue functioning as an appeals agency.

Nutter's proposal would replace the BRT with an appeals board appointed by the mayor and confirmed by City Council. The appointees would have to come from a list of nominees selected by "industry and professional experts," the administration suggested.

The BRT's current chairman, former Municipal Court Judge Alan Silberstein, said Nutter was trying to accomplish through legislation what the Supreme Court had ruled against.

"The legislature knew what it was doing when it made the [BRT] independent of the mayor and City Council," Silberstein said. "It would be like a policeman arresting somebody and having the sergeant try that person at the police district. . . . We should be independent of any action taken by the mayor."

State Rep. Jewell Williams (D., Phila.), chairman of the city delegation, said he supported the administration's concepts. But lawmakers want to have another sit-down with the mayor before introducing a specific bill, he said.

"We want to do anything to lessen the burden on the people of Philadelphia and help the schools," Williams said.

Contact staff writer Bob Warner at 215-854-5885 or

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