Property owners in West Oak Lane said the city’s recent property evaluations have left them with financial stress. The reassessments are part of the Actual Value Initiative. This will result in a property tax hike for many Philadelphia residents, while increasing revenue for the city.
Property owners received notice of their new property tax amount in February, but the new rates will not go into effect until next year. As calculated by the city in December 2012, the total taxable market value for all properties in 2014 is $96.5 billion.
People were asked to fill out First Level Review forms by March 31 in the event of an appeal.“In some instances that’s going to maybe be beneficial, and some may not,” said West Oak Lane Business Association member, Marlene Hardy. This was in reference to the fact that an evaluator can then decide to increase, decrease or keep the contested evaluation the same.
A Confusing Process
“One of the things that we’ve always been concerned about was taxes; whether we were taxed right, whether the assessment was really the true value of our homes,” said Alfred Dorman, Consultant for OARC on Ogontz and Cheltenham Avenues.
As block captains, Marlene Hardy and Sharyn Holloman met with neighbors to discuss their reassessments. Hardy, who manages the 7300 block of East Walnut Lane, discovered that most of the properties on her block were valued at nearly identical amounts. “They were concerned that some of the houses are not, you know, maybe as average as the other houses,” said Hardy. She suggested that a new system of evaluation with concrete measurements to inspect each home individually be put in place.
At the 7100 block of Cedar Park Avenue, Holloman found the same problem. She said neighbors complained that houses on the block were assigned similar values, despite having different features, such as porches and garages.
The Office of Property Assessment said it uses field inspectors, aerial photographs and previous real estate listings to consider factors like property size, location, condition and use, but this raised another issue of accuracy for residents. “They don’t come into your home,” said Hardy. “They look at the outside.”
Holloman, who is also the Treasurer of West Oak Lane Business Association, said some of her neighbors are considering applying for state assistance because of their tax increase.
The West Oak Lane Business Association meets monthly at the Senior Center on Ogontz Avenue and East Walnut Lane. Brian Madalion, who serves as the group’s vice president, said members are uncertain about commercial reassessments, as well as home evaluations.
Madalion has worked as a State Farm agent for nearly five years and recently decided to purchase his building, located next door to the Senior Center. The property’s new value assessment could affect the services he is able to provide employees, since his taxes will now be significantly higher than originally expected. “It could be the difference between offering health care or not,” said Madalion.
He has considered moving out of the city in the past. “It’s very hard to do business in Philadelphia,” said Madalion. He believes that the Actual Value Initiative will keep some people from opening new businesses and purchasing their buildings in the city.
Tawana Ford Sabbath and her husband own Walter E. Sabbath Jr. Funeral Service just down the street from Madalion’s store. Sabbath said her building was incorrectly listed as a multiple use facility because they do not live in it. She said that most stores on the block do have tenants. “We don’t have any,” said Sabbath. “So we really do have to make that difference known because we don’t have income that comes from anything other than our funeral business.”
The Office of Property Assessment led several community meetings around Philadelphia in the past months. West Oak Lane residents can also turn to Representative Dwight Evans’ office to discuss their concerns on an individual basis.
Evans’ office said it initially encountered alarm from most people, but once they were helped with factoring in the Homestead Exemption, some residents saw they would actually save money. The Homestead Exemption is available to all who own and live in their home. It reduces the taxable portion of a property assessment by $30,000. Reductions in property assessments are also available for properties destroyed by fires and natural disasters. Veterans with service-related injuries and nonprofit organizations may apply for exemptions.
Sabbath’s schedule has not permitted her to attend any of the city’s community meetings, but she has discussed them with other members of the West Oak Lane Business Association who have been in the audience. “The emphasis has been on residential properties, not on commercial properties,” said Sabbath. “So, it may be that we need to advocate for separate meetings that will focus on commercial properties because the issues are really very different.”