Philadelphia Property Assessment Audit Reveals Major Issues Confirming Consumer Outrage
By Marc Shaw
An audit of the City of
Philadelphia’s property assessments was recently released, and the conclusions
are not pretty. The findings indicate that the assessments are based on
deficient data and fail to meet current accuracy standards.
Last year, homeowners with large tax increases were outraged after a reassessment of residential properties. In response, the City Council commissioned an audit. The results suggest that the city’s methods are flawed which results in inaccurate assessments.
According to an analysis performed by the Inquirer and the Daily News, almost 170,000 Philadelphia properties have been over assessed. That’s more than 35 percent of all Philadelphia properties.
For now, the report won’t affect standing assessments or taxpayers’ pending appeals. However, it did spark a public clash involving Council President Darrell L. Clarke and Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration. The Mayor’s administration governs the Office of Property Assessment (OPA).
Clarke called for a change of leadership in the OPA. He’s also calling for an outside company to help the city correct invalid data. Clarke told reporters that “Based on the existing operation of OPA, we clearly have some challenges.”
Mayor Kenney maintains that the audit was “based on faulty data,” and that it lacks specific recommendations for improvement. Mike Dunn, a Kenney spokesperson, said that “It would be inappropriate, and frankly unfair, for the OPA team to become political scapegoats in light of the progress they have made.”
For his part, Clarke says the audit supports his concerns about the OPA. In response to Kenney’s comment, Clarke spokesperson Jane Roh replied, “The truly inappropriate thing to do would be to dismiss an independent assessment’s findings because they are politically inconvenient.”
The audit was performed by J.F. Ryan Associates, Inc., a Massachusetts company, for $160,000. Here are some additional findings:
1. The property assessments used to compute real estate taxes on residences, commercial buildings and vacant land don’t meet industry standards.
2. There are wide variations and a lack of uniformity in land values among similar properties in the same area.
3. Average assessments in many areas can be off by 15 percent or more.
4. Because the property assessment methodology isn’t available to the public, property owners can’t determine how their property values are calculated.
In conclusion, the report stated, “There are many activities performed either in an ad hoc manner or in disconnected ways that preclude either addressing or solving the problems.”
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