The hot AVI blues

ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Frank Maimone fears he's getting burned by disparities in AVI.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Frank Maimone fears he's getting burned by disparities in AVI.
Posted: April 05, 2013

FRANK MAIMONE sometimes gets as hot as his pizza ovens in Northern Liberties.

A pioneer, he opened Rustica Pizza in 2000, when there wasn't much to recommend the postindustrial, broken neighborhood where people had been drinking Schmidts rather than living around its hipster piazza.

A Haddonfield native, Frank had an urban soul and arrived in No Libs to pursue a dream with Rustica, on 2nd Street near Poplar. After he married, he bought a nearby house that is now home to himself, his wife Mary and their two young daughters. He pays for them to attend private school because most city schools, which his ever-rising real-estate taxes help fund, are crappy.

At 46, Frank gets hot because he can see a day coming that he does not want to see - when crazy city policy and taxes force him out of the city he loves.

Today, he's hot about AVI - the Actual Value Initiative.

"I'll go kicking and screaming, but I'm closer to leaving than I've ever been," he says as we talk in his small shop that serves creative pizza in addition to plain pies. Creative? Try his Reuben pizza.

Although Frank didn't finish college, he is a politician's worst nightmare - an engaged and informed voter who devours his local newspapers and the Wall Street Journal.

From the Journal, he learned that only Bridgeport, Conn., crushes residents with a greater per capita tax burden than Philadelphia. In this regrettable category, Philly bests New York, L.A. and Chicago.

AVI, the city's attempt to reform real-estate taxes, is "grossly inaccurate," Frank says.

I ask him to prove it.

Frank reaches for his iPhone and dials up some valuations on the city website.

He shows me two plots on Randolph Street, side-by-side, identical size. His home is located on one plot. A vacant lot is the other. The value of his land is $28,447. The value of the land next door is $39,200. This is just the land, not what has been built on it.

Identical size, side-by-side, an inexplicable one-third difference in value. Frank asks, how's that possible? Wide discrepancies in land and property value have been documented all over the city.

Several times Frank says he is OK with "paying my fair share," providing the bill is accurate. But it's not.

How can his house, "one block from a methadone clinic," he asks, "be worth more than the same house three blocks away on a street with nice galleries?"

Frank questions how the Office of Property Assessment came up with the numbers.

"OPA won't divulge the formula," Frank says. "And Nutter's the 'mayor of transparency?' "

OPA chief assessor Richie McKeithen tells me there is no single formula, there are different considerations for residential, condominium, industrial and commercial properties. The highly regarded Dr. Kevin Gillen, now at the University of Pennsylvania, did the models that produced values for residential single-family land parcels, about four-fifths of the total. OPA estimated the values for the land parcels for everything else, says McKeithen.

Frank says he's paying 20 percent more in real-estate taxes than three years ago, that he's had to cut back financially and feels he's getting less for his taxes.

If rising costs and city craziness drive out people like him - small business owners - what will be left is Detroit.

Frank recently, reluctantly, laid off one of his 11 employees - about 9 percent of his work force.

He'd like Nutter to do the same with his deputy mayors and appointees before coming around to raise taxes and to take another slice of Frank's pie.


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Columns: philly.com/Byko

Blog: philly.com/stuniversity

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