Tax reform faces an uphill battle

A group of reformers and residents filed a “Fix Philly Taxes” lawsuit in Common Pleas court claiming city officials have known for decades that Philadelphia’s property tax system is “inequitable, inaccurate and illegal” but haven’t remedied the situation.

Railing against an across-the-board 9.9 percent property tax hike, tax-reform activist and plaintiff Brett Mandel said, “From house to house, neighborhood to neighborhood, block to block, properties are not valued correctly. The suit asks that the city be compelled to accurately, properly and legally set property values for tax purposes each year. If politicians will not fix the problem because they’re worried about political ramifications, the courts have to fix this.”

Ritchie McKeithen, who started as chief assessment officer last year after the Board of Revision of Taxes was stripped of those responsibilities, said incremental steps have already been taken to fix the system.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” McKeithen said of assessing an estimated 577,000 parcels. “Most municipalities have assessments every year, but they haven’t done anything of that nature [here] since 2004. Once the weather turns, we’ll start our massive field-inspection project but with [current] staffing, that could take a couple years.”