Politician’s House Keeps Low Assessment; PA Board Claims It Lost File

February 6, 2008

Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Fumo’s $6 million 27-room Philadelphia mansion is assessed for property tax purposes at just $250,000. The Philadelphia Board of Revision of Taxes (BRT) recently voted 4-3 not to reassess the property because it lost the property’s file:

“They moved heaven and earth to try to find it,” said Kevin Feeley, a consultant for the Philadelphia Board of Revision of Taxes. He said it was probably lost in a recent move.[…]

In the spring, the board increased valuations for two-thirds of Philadelphia properties but skipped Fumo’s.

Feeley said the board’s assessors had their hands full with other work and didn’t have time to deal with Fumo’s property, which he said was especially difficult to evaluate.

Fumo bought the property in 1994 for $175,000, and in 2003, assessors sought to hike the valuation that year to $436,000. Fumo appealed and the BRT cut the increase to $250,000. Nobody remembers why, and the lost file contains that information.

“To lose 13 years of records from one of the most powerful elected officials in Pennsylvania? That’s pretty weak.”

Lost file notwithstanding, Feeley said the agency was confident that Fumo had been treated like any other taxpayer.

Because the house’s market value has been pegged at $250,000, Fumo’s annual property-tax bill has been only $6,611. In contrast, a house valued at $6 million has an annual tax bill of $165,000.[…]

Today, it has a six-floor elevator, seven fireplaces, three kitchens, a whirlpool bath, a custom-built vault, a billiard room, a wine cellar, a shooting range, gas lamps and heated sidewalks.

Not bad on a state legislator’s salary? Perhaps not:

Fumo is scheduled to go on trial this fall on corruption charges. Among the allegations in the 139-count indictment is that Fumo had a taxpayer-paid Senate aide work for 18 months as “project manager” overseeing the parade of contractors redoing the house.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, two of the four BRT votes that saved Fumo’s property from reassessment came “from members with personal or political ties to Fumo.”

More on Pennsylvania’s property tax woes here.

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