Reform Comes to Philadelphia’s Troubled System of Property Tax Assessment

by Stewart Weintraub and Jennifer Weidler

On December 17, 2009, Philadelphia City Council voted 15-2 in favor of Bill No. 090706 which, upon approval of the voters, would abolish the Board of Revision of Taxes (“BRT”) and establish, in its place, two separate agencies to perform Philadelphia’s property tax assessment and appeal functions.  On May 18, 2010, Philadelphia voters approved a ballot referendum abolishing the BRT and replacing it with the Office of Property Assessment and the Board of Property Assessment Appeals.

The reform of the current property tax assessment system was spawned by claims of political patronage and inaccurate assessments.  To combat a reoccurrence of those issues under the new system, the BRT’s duties will be split amongst the two new agencies.

The Office of Property Assessments will establish real estate values for every parcel in the city.  The Office of Property Assessments will be headed by a chief assessment officer, who will serve a four-year term and can only be fired for cause.  The “for cause” addendum is intended to shield the new office from political interference.  Mayor Nutter nominated the head of the District of Columbia’s property assessment operation, Richie McKeithen, as Philadelphia’s first chief assessment officer.  The Office of Property Assessments officially began operation on July 1, 2010.  Meanwhile, the BRT will cease to exist on October 1, 2010.

Seven members will head the Board of Property Assessment Appeals, which will operate independently from the Office of Property Assessments.  Members of the new board will be appointed through an intricate process involving the Mayor, City Council, and an independent nominating panel.  The Mayor will appoint seven board members from a list of twenty-one individuals, selected by an independent nominating panel.  City Council will then vote to confirm the Mayor’s appointees.  Commercial and residential property owners who contend that their assessment is incorrect may make their case before this new, independent, body.

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