Despite surge, fewer tax appeals filed than expected

Posted: October 09, 2013

BIKE MESSENGERS, confused-looking homeowners and lawyers carrying bundles of forms stampeded the Board of Revision of Taxes' offices yesterday - the deadline for property owners to appeal their city's assessments.

The deluge at the Curtis Center, 6th and Chestnut streets, was expected, because the city this year reassessed every taxable property in Philadelphia. But the number of appeals remains well below what was initially expected, and observers differ over the reason for the shortage.

As the clock struck 5 p.m. and the BRT got ready to close its doors, Executive Director Carla Pagan gave an "eyeballing-it" estimate of 10,000 to 15,000 appeals filed so far - a fraction of the more than 57,000 filings the board had braced for.

For supporters of Mayor Nutter's Actual Value Initiative property-tax reform effort, the reason for the scarce rate is that the reassessments are largely accurate.

For critics, the shortage was due in part to confusion about an unofficial "first-level review" process the administration created this year. Run by the Office of Property Assessment, the "informal" reviews let city assessors take another look at their valuations to ensure no basic characteristics were misrecorded.

The city received about 50,000 of those reviews and had planned to complete them before the BRT deadline. But OPA realized last month that it wouldn't finish in time and sent out letters to the roughly 25,000 owners whose reviews were pending.

Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald said that the OPA had gotten through about 32,000 as of last week and that the city had sent out a second letter advising owners of the BRT deadline.

The problem was that many Philadelphians believed they had filed their official appeal by using the OPA process. The OPA reviews cannot be challenged in court, and property owners wanting to appeal their cases to Common Pleas Court need to have filed with the BRT first.

Critics like City Controller Alan Butkovitz said the apparent confusion would cost some residents their legal rights.

The law governing the BRT leaves little room for the board to change its appeals deadline. But it does allow for an extension in extraordinary cases.

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson recently introduced a resolution calling for the BRT to use that provision to accept late appeals this year.

BRT members did not respond to requests for comment yesterday. Pagan said they have made no official move to reopen the appeals process.


On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN

Blog: ph.ly/PhillyClout

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