The Board of Revision of Taxes voted to move ahead with implementation of the "Actual Value Initiative" to accurately value properties for tax purposes.  When fully implemented, the Actual Value Initiative will end the well-documented unfairness that characterizes assessments today.  KYW Newsradio reported:

Philadelphia's Board of Revision of Taxes ("BRT") is now on record as beginning the process of slogging through data to overhaul the city's property tax system.  It will be months -- the fall, or perhaps the end of the year -- before data is available on the new assessment figures. But the board's chairwoman, Charlesretta Meade, promises "an open, honest, transparent process."

Two members of City Council -- Jannie Blackwell and Bill Green -- expressed reservations about the system, and proposed fixes on how to fairly and equitably appraise property. They want appropriate buffers in place, including state legislation to allow the city to protect residents from huge property tax increases.

BRT board member Robert Nix says they're trying to convert assessments to eliminate inequities in the way in which property owners are taxed:  "Since the uniformity is not there today, the impact is not uniform. Therein lies the biggest difficulty in creating buffers and protections, so that one person's burden is not tremendously greater than another's."  (Full Coverage)

This move is an incredibly positive development, but anyone who has been paying attention to this issue probably has a bunch of questions.  Maybe the following Q & A helps answer them.

Will next year's tax bills be based on new and "accurate" values?

No.  The BRT's first step will be to release its most well-informed take on what the accurate values are this fall so that policy makers and the public can begin to see how the changed values could affect tax bills.  The earliest that tax bills could be based on the accurate values would be the following year.

Can the BRT get the values right?

There is no technical reason why they can't.  The BRT has invested in the technology that should allow agency staff to assign accurate values to every property and, at today's meeting, they hired very reputable and respected consultants to work with the agency to ensure that the new values are correct.

Will elected officials put policies in place to ensure that this move will not force vulnerable homeowners out onto the street and create chaos in the marketplace?

They certainly should.  The move by the BRT to release preliminary values should allow policy makers to debate policies to ensure a smooth transition to a fair system based on accurate values.  Happily, other jurisdictions provide them with a menu of policy options that are working in other cities.  However, the BRT's only job is to get the values correct and with today's vote, they commit themselves to doing their job.  Our elected officials will have to then use the new values to come to a judgment about enacting laws and policies to make a smooth transition to a fair system.

What will happen to Philadelphia Forward's lawsuit to compel the city to accurately value properties for tax purposes?

We could find out soon.  The BRT's action today is a major plus in the "words" column, but we will be looking closely at the "deeds" side of the ledger.  We will meet again with representatives from the BRT to consider how today's actions affect the lawsuit.

The BRT's action is a first step in a process that undoubtedly will involve many steps forward and possibly a few stumbles along the way, but it could be that we are (finally) moving toward Real Estate Tax fairness.  I know that for me, personally, this will probably mean higher taxes on my own home, but I also know that this will lower taxes for many Philadelphians who have been paying too much and I know this is a very good thing for fairness, for transparency, for certainty -- and for the City of Philadelphia.