Residents want to know: What will my tax bill be?

SEAN COLLINS WALSH / DAILY NEWS STAFF Jordan Schwartz (front, right), deputy chief of staff for the Mayor's Office, answers questions about the Actual Value Initiative.
SEAN COLLINS WALSH / DAILY NEWS STAFF Jordan Schwartz (front, right), deputy chief of staff for the Mayor's Office, answers questions about the Actual Value Initiative.
Posted: March 29, 2013

IN RECENT WEEKS, hundreds of Philly property owners flocked to meetings about the Actual Value Initiative, the new property-tax system that begins next year.

Many wanted to know how AVI works, some wanted help with filling out documents, and others just wanted to vent. But most of all, they wanted to know: What are my taxes going to be?

Problem is, that's one question the city couldn't answer.

Last month the city began to mail notices to taxpayers with their new assessments, but not what their new tax bills will be. That's because City Council and Mayor Nutter are still negotiating the tax rate. As a result, many people saw that their valuations are skyrocketing and were left to their own conclusions on what that would mean for their wallets.

A property-tax overhaul - especially one in which most residents will likely get higher bills - is always a tough sell. But this information deficit is making it harder for the administration to push AVI over the finish line.

"Instead of getting everyone upset, they should have put what your bill is going to be for next year" on the notices, said Wynnefield resident Larry Butts, who waited in line for an hour at an AVI session Thursday in Center City. "I have to find out what this means, but nobody knows what this means."

Councilwoman Cindy Bass said the city "did itself a huge disservice in putting information out and not giving people the information they really want to know." The notices, she said, should've included ranges of possible taxes.

The new rate will be much lower than this year's, probably 1.3 percent to 1.4 percent. So residents who took new assessments and used the old rate likely went through some unneeded agita.

Still, most homeowners are likely to see tax increases, and some, especially in gentrified areas, will see huge spikes. On the other hand, most increases won't be enormous, and as much as 40 percent could see cuts.

The question is, who?

At the sessions, city workers estimated what people's tax bills are likely to be using the "AVI calculator" (avicalculator.phila.gov) in one-on-one meetings.

"The main confusion is people don't know what their tax bill is going to be, and then we talk with them and explain," said Terry Gillen, one of the top administration officials who manned the tables at the outreach sessions.

Many homeowners said they walked away from the sessions satisfied that they at least had a sense of where things were going, she said.

"We help them understand everything from the political process to the calculations," Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald said. "What they come to realize is that just because your assessment goes up a certain amount doesn't mean your taxes will go up a commensurate amount."

But city workers couldn't have reached more than a fraction of the owners of the city's 589,000 taxable properties, and the one-on-one sessions have ended.

- Staff writer Jan Ransom contributed to this report.


On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN

Blog: PhillyClout.com

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