During appeal, lower city tax bill due

Councilman Mark Squilla says the bills have caused "all kinds of confusion."
Councilman Mark Squilla says the bills have caused "all kinds of confusion." (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)

Property owners can pay the amount from last year while they appeal the higher bill under new assessments.

Posted: January 27, 2014

PHILADELPHIA City property owners who are fighting their higher assessments can pay their lower tax amounts from last year while they appeal - but many probably don't realize it.

Especially those who recently received a bill for the newer, higher amount.

Those bills have caused what one city councilman calls "all kinds of confusion."

The problem, said Revenue Commissioner Clarena I.W. Tolson, was timing: The city did not get a list of people with appeals pending before the Board of Revision of Taxes (BRT) until the 2014 bills were already being processed, she said.

So, owners of about 24,000 properties were sent bills based on values they believe are incorrect and inflated.

Tolson said new letters would be mailed out to most of those property owners starting Saturday, informing them that they can pay just their 2013 taxes until their cases are settled.

"It was a major lift to create these revised bills," she said. "We wanted to make it very clear . . . there's no catch to this, no loss to them for taking advantage of this."

Councilman Mark Squilla last year successfully sponsored legislation that allows property owners to pay their 2013 taxes while appealing their new assessments.

His reasoning was that property owners shouldn't have to pay 2014 bills they view as unfair - and possibly can't afford - and then wait for a refund if they win their appeals.

If property owners owe more after an appeal is settled, they can pay up the balance without facing interest or penalties from the city.

Squilla said his office started getting calls from people who filed appeals shortly after the 2014 bills, asking them to pay the full amount, were sent out in December. "It just caused all kinds of confusion," he said.

He said more than a third of the appeals were filed by property owners in his First District, which stretches along the Delaware River from South Philadelphia to Port Richmond.

Squilla's area got hit hardest by tax hikes under Mayor Nutter's property tax reform, the Actual Value Initiative (AVI), which included a citywide reassessment.

The new assessments were meant to reflect the actual, market value of properties - and in most cases, were much higher than assessments under the old, broken system.

But Council also passed a new millage, or tax rate, that was many times lower than under the old system, and as a result, the majority of property owners saw their taxes go down or roughly stay the same.

That combination of changes at times left property owners scratching their heads. The confusion seems to have continued - Tolson said owners of some 4,600 properties appealed their new assessments despite the fact that their tax bills are lower as a result of AVI.

Those people will not get revised bills from the city, she said.

Tolson said that each year, the Revenue Department needs several weeks to process, print, and mail the end-of-the-year property tax bills. That work is begun annually in mid-November, but in 2013, the list of property owners with pending appeals did not arrive from the BRT, an independent board, until after that.

"This was just a cross in timing," she said.

Property tax bills are due March 31, but amid all the complicated numbers, here's a nice, simple one for Philadelphia homeowners: They can get a 1 percent discount if they pay by Feb. 28.


tgraham@phillynews.com

215-854-2730

@troyjgraham

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