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How the City Assesses Your Property Taxes

The nuts and bolts of how Philadelphia will establish property assessment.

Philadelphia city government currently is working to determine how specifically to tax property owners for their 2012 tax bill. Not matter what the actual outcome of the actual value assessment debate, the Office of Property Assessment is finishing up the investigative process to come up with assessments.

As it's the first time Philadelphia will complete a citywide evaluation all at once, sticker shock could be prevalent for property owners this fall. In info sessions at local civic associations, OPA members are sharing with residents how they assess their properties. 

Richie McKeithern, chief assessment officer, told the Wissahickon Neighbors Civic Association that the citywide assessment will get the tax system more in line with market value.

"We want to compare apples with apples, oranges to oranges, and apply it. The whole reassessment is attempting to make sure it's fair and not done at random," he said.

The OPA does the work—they don't set the rules. The politicians do that. Depending on how City Council irons out the language, the reassessment will bring values more in line with market value. Councilman Bill Green (D-At-large) has share some materials to give residents insight on how it specifically impacts individual properties.

Speaking generally, McKeithern discussed a home sold for $250,000 within the past five years.

"If the market value is $240,000, and the city's value is $140,000 now, it will go up," he said. "The whole process is about getting our records to where the sales are."

Michael Piper, OPA's deputy administrator, said to the Ridge Park Civic Association that short sales and foreclosures make up part of the process, but don't factor as much into value as with other assessments. He said every city neighborhood possesses enough normal or "arms-length" sales that these lower sales don't impact it.

How The Process Works

The OPA divides the city's 577,000 properties into 400 to 500 geographic mapping areas, he said. Within that area, they compare home sales based on types of homes (single-family, townhouse, etc.).

Then, they perform in-field investigations for about 98 percent of the properties. At this step, they evaluate home improvements not on the city's books. For the first time, License and Inspections communicates building permits to OPA, so they can review construction projects.

By the end of summer, McKeithern said the city will complete inspections. By Sept. 17, residents should receive assessment notices if properties changed in value—whether up or down. He estimated about 95 percent of properties will change in value. Additionally, that information will be available online.

Because there's a citywide push, certain properties could see a hefty bump—depending on how City Council responds. Either way, McKeithern said the assessment should level off after this year.

"I don't expect a lot of change year-in, year-out. Once you get the assessment this year, it shouldn't change too much next year," he said.

Piper agreed.

"This will probably be more dramatic this year than next year," he said.

Exemptions and Appeals

Joshua Cohen, staff member for , encouraged residents to apply for the homestead exemption. Essentially, property owners who live at the house can apply to not be taxed on the first $15,000 of value on the property.

"I think everyone should do it. The program is basically savings in your pocket," Cohen said.

The OPA must receive the application (available on this website or by clicking the attached document) before July 31 to be factored in this year's taxes. Council also could decide to raise the exemption to $30,000 or $40,000.

In addition, McKeithern explained the appeals process and encouraged residents to utilize it.

"Once you get an assessment notice, that's not the end of it... That's why we have a process," McKeithern said.

The first step is an informal appeal with the OPA. Residents can meet with officers and discuss discrepancies. If no conclusion is reached, the next step is a formal appeal with the Board of Revision of Taxes. The last step is in the Court of Common Pleas.

"Most of the time, inaccuracies are due to faulty data. If you can show us where we got it wrong, then we can do something," Piper said.

McKeithern emphasized that residents should approach appeals with facts, not with emotions.

"Don't file an appeal based on affordability. It should be about where OPA got it wrong," he said.

If residents want to talk to an OPA agent in person, Piper will attend the June 19 Residents of Shawmont Valley Meeting at the Andorra Library, starting at 6 p.m.

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