Council to audit Office of Property Assessments

June 8, 2018 GMT

After new property assessments sent some residents’ tax bills skyrocketing this year, City Council is targeting the Philadelphia office responsible for determining what each property is worth.

City Council will conduct a $160,000 audit the Office of Property Assessment (OPA), Council President Darrell Clarke said inside the City Council Caucus Room on Thursday.

J.F. Ryan Associates, Inc., is expected to complete the audit, said Clarke while flanked by Councilmen Allan Domb, William Greenlee, Kenyatta Johnson and Mark Squilla.

The auditor will review the methodology and procedures the OPA uses to calculate property assessments.

Clarke said the OPA’s process had “inaccuracies across the board,” and characterized the the new rates as inconsistent.

“We clearly do not want to move forward with processes and with numbers that are flawed,” the council president said.

A report is expected to be available in September. Any findings will not affect this year’s reassessments.

Under the OPA’s citywide reassessment, the total value of city property rose by nearly 11 percent, which caused the Kenney administration to reduce its proposed property tax increase from six to 4.1 percent.

But the assessments were not felt equally by all residents: While some bills declined, others dramatically increased under the OPA’s Actual Value Initiative, which was adopted in 2013.

Squilla said half the property owners in his 1st District have seen their assessments jump by more than 20 percent in a single year, with others experiencing increases of upwards of 80 percent.

“The flaws that have been enacted, the non-uniformity across the board that we see — these are things that, for us as council members who represent our homeowners and our residents, that we need to make sure we have protections put in place,” Squilla said.

Johnson, who represents the 2nd District, characterized the recent assessment as an “atomic bomb on the residents throughout the city of Philadelphia.”

While only some areas of the city are seeing gentrification and rapid investment, Johnson said the pain of rising property assessments and taxes is felt by residents citywide.

Without modifications to OPA’s assessment process and other changes, Domb said he refused to consider tax increases.

“My conscience doesn’t allow me to vote for a tax increase until we’ve demonstrated to the citizens of this city that we’ve managed the money we’ve already collected from them accurately,” Domb said.

Mike Dunn, a spokesman for Mayor Jim Kenney, said in an email: “We support the audit and welcome discussions with Council on its findings.”