Clarke, Henon, and Oh Bill requires greater transparency and and accuracy in city property assessments
Council President Darrell L. Clarke, Councilman Bobby Henon (6th District) and Councilman At-Large David Oh today unveiled a bill modifying the Office of Property Assessment's (OPA) duties and powers for the purpose of significantly increasing the transparency and objectivity of the property assessment process.
"There are significant and legitimate concerns about the City's assessments as relates to the Actual Value Initiative (AVI). A fair and accurate assessment is not possible when OPA does not know how many bathrooms are in a particular home, for example," Council President Clarke (5th District) said.
"This bill would require OPA to make freely available a full explanation of its methodology. It also requires OPA to post details of individual assessments on the City's website," Council President Clarke continued. "It is important to give the taxpayers of Philadelphia confidence their assessments are fair, accurate and transparent."
The bill further requires OPA to demonstrate that its methodology is based on the most recent standards of the International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO). In the District of Columbia, which recently conducted a mass reassessment, all of the data and calculations used in the assessment process are readily accessible to the public. The District of Columbia also requires the annual publication of a report measuring the fairness and accuracy of assessments.
"During numerous Council hearings, OPA's inability to explain its own assessment methodology was almost comical. But no one in City Council is laughing, and certainly homeowners who are perplexed by their new assessments are not laughing," said Councilman Henon, who introduced the ordinance on behalf of the co-sponsors.
"This bill holds OPA to commonsense standards of transparency. Philadelphia taxpayers deserve a more complete explanation of their bills than a math formula you need a Ph.D. to understand."
The bill provides an additional check on assessments by authorizing City Council to hire an independent firm to audit OPA every three years. The first audit would be conducted in 2014.
"Mistakes will be made in any citywide reassessment, but it did not help that Philadelphia's assessments were conducted in such a short time frame with an insufficient number of assessors," Councilman Oh said.
"The requirement for OPA to be audited by an independent firm on a regular basis will give Philadelphia taxpayers more reason to be confident their property assessments are done fairly and accurately."
If the bill is approved by Council and signed by Mayor Michael A. Nutter, OPA will be required to maintain all records and supporting data used to certify property values for at least seven years. All such information must be available to the public.
A copy of the ordinance is attached. Also attached for informational purposes are the District of Columbia's Real Property Tax Administration's FY2013 Assessment Ratio Report and the Real Property Assessment Division's Appraiser's Reference Materials manual.
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