Community leaders unite over opposition to new property-tax system

Linda Rowe
Linda Rowe
Posted: February 19, 2013

LINDA Rowe has lived in her two-story South Philly brick house for 28 years, most recently on a fixed income.

Rowe, 58, who lives on Cantrell Street near 8th, is disabled and has been struggling over the years to keep up with her property-tax bills. She owes more than $2,240 in back taxes that have piled up since 2008.

But come next year, Rowe fears what could happen when the city moves to a new property-tax system based on market values - known as the Actual Value Initiative. Her house was valued at $12,000 for 2013, but has jumped to $114,400 for 2014. That could mean a $1,430 tax bill under the new 1.25 percent tax rate, more than triple her current $375 levy.

"I don't have that kind of money," said Rowe, who lives on $1,002 a month. "I don't know what I would do."

City leaders and community groups are concerned that AVI could have a crippling impact on this South Philly neighborhood, just outside of Center City - home to a working-class mix of Cambodians, Asians, African-Americans and Hispanics, and a stretch of small mom-and-pop shops.

Freshman City Councilman Mark Squilla, who represents the 1st District, which includes some of the hardest-hit areas - like parts of South Philly, Northern Liberties and Old Kensington - plans to challenge the accuracy of the assessments.

"This will destroy them. [The administration] always said it was going to be fair. This isn't the case," said Squilla. "It's not a gentrifying neighborhood, it's a struggling area." Squilla, along with Councilman Jim Kenney, is launching a campaign with community groups throughout his district to educate people about AVI and how to appeal if they believe they have been overassessed. He is also lining up attorneys.

"The administration spent two years developing this assessment process and these results. It's one of the most accurate assessments ever," said mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald, adding that anyone with gripes about an assessment can appeal.

The city released online and mailed assessment notices to nearly 579,000 property owners Friday. Some properties were last assessed decades ago under a system that was plagued by inaccurate assessments and political influence.

Nutter's goal of $1.2 billion in property-tax revenue means a 1.25 percent tax rate. About 60 percent of residents are likely to see higher tax bills, most incremental, but 36,000 homeowners will see their tax bills jump by more than $1,000.

Currently on the table is a $30,000 homestead exemption and relief for longtime homeowners living in gentrified areas. Any relief measure will increase the tax rate, which Council has to set by June 30.


On Twitter: @Jan_Ransom

Blog: PhillyClout.com

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