Last week, Mayor Nutter announced that new property assessments compiled under the Actual Value Initiative (AVI) were being mailed to Philadelphia property owners and made available to the public online. The new valuations will be applicable for the 2014 tax year.
In 2010, the Office of Property Assessment (OPA) was created to oversee the revaluation of all taxable properties in Philadelphia. The AVI is the program initiated by OPA to reassess every taxable property in Philadelphia, to estimate its current market value.
In addition to updating estimated values, the AVI will also simplify real estate tax calculations for city residents. For the 2014 tax year, property tax calculations will be determined by multiplying their new valuation by the tax rate determined by Mayor Nutter and City Council in the spring.
An integral part of the AVI program is the communication of new tax information to Philadelphia’s property owners. This process formally kicked off at a press event on Friday, February 15th.
At last Friday’s press event, Mayor Nutter announced that the City will begin mailing the new property assessments along with a “First-Level Review” request form to city property owners. In addition, the City rolled out a brand new AVI Calculator Application designed to work on any desktop or mobile browser. The objective in developing and releasing this new app was to augment the physical mailings to taxpayers and the OPA website to give residents as many options as possible to obtain new information on their assessments.
Critical to the development of this new app was the release of bulk assessment data from OPA on all properties in the City of Philadelphia. This data is available as a free download from the OPA website or OpenDataPhilly and was used to form the basis of a new API that can be used to power websites and mobile applications.
Under the leadership of Managing Director Rich Negrin and at the direction of Chief Innovation Officer Adel Ebeid, the Innovation Management Team at the Office of Innovation & Technology (OIT) began developing the components used to power the AVI calculator app.
Sarah Cordivano and Dave Walk from the GIS Services Group in OIT were able to take the raw assessment data from OPA and add coordinates – locational information for each property – making it easier to use and ready to be displayed on a map. The data was then loaded into the City’s GIS infrastructure and made available as a simple, easy to use web service.
Tim Wisniewski, the City’s new Director of Civic Technology, then used the tools and tactics he learned at dozens of civic hackathons and developed a clean and simple mobile web app on top of the newly provisioned GIS service. The result was a brand new AVI calculator app available through any desktop or mobile browser for any Philadelphian to use to inquire about detailed property assessment information.
But the app itself isn’t the only valuable byproduct of the Innovation Team’s efforts.
All of the OPA data and the GIS service used by the app are available for anyone else to reuse if they want to present this data differently, or add new functionality. In fact, not long after the City released assessment data last Friday an externally developed application displaying updated assessments was launched.
In addition, the source code for the AVI calculator app is on GitHub where anyone can fork it to modify and use themselves or submit a pull request to the City of Philadelphia to suggest changes to the official City application.
These combined efforts of the Managing Director’s Office, the Office of Property Assessment and the Office of Innovation and Technology resulted in a victory for government transparency, civic innovation and for city taxpayers.