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Less is more for Santucci owner

Gene Carelli is a happy guy.

The owner of the popular Santucci Square Pizza shops on Cottman Avenue and on Tyson Avenue caught a big break from the City of Philadelphia this summer.

In March, Carelli filed assessment review requests for his two properties with the Office of Property Assessment. In late July, the OPA told him the assessments on his properties have been lowered almost a half-million dollars, substantially cutting what he’ll have to pay in 2014 city real estate taxes.

So, yeah, he’s happy.

“I’m pleased with the results,” Carelli said in an Oct. 7 phone interview. “But I think I’m still going to be paying more” than this year.

The OPA knocked down the assessment on his property on the 900 block of Tyson from about $461,000 to $182,000. OPA reduced the market value of Carelli’s shop on the 4000 block of Cottman from $827,000 to $626,000.

The market values for his properties were mailed out in the spring with everybody else’s as part of the city’s Actual Value Initiative. The first numbers that Carelli got were “unbelievable,” he said.

“Now, it’s in the ballpark,” of what Carelli thinks his properties really are worth.

The combined reductions prove less is more. If you’re working your air calculators to see how much the restaurateur won’t be paying, it comes to more than $6,200.

Carelli’s $480,000 success story could be a lesson for others who this year or next will be appealing their properties’ new assessments.

“You’re dealing with the city,” he said. “You have to use some sort of rationale.”

Carelli wanted to present the OPA with the values of nearby comparable properties to show his stores were overassessed. For one shop, that wasn’t too difficult; for the other, it was tough going.

It was impossible to find a building comparable to his Cottman Avenue shop, Carelli said. However, he had an argument that OPA couldn’t defend the assessment. The building had been appraised 10 years ago at a little more than half what OPA had determined its current worth to be.

“How could it go up so much in 10 years?” he asked.

It was much easier to prove his point for his Tyson Avenue store. Comparable buildings were assessed much lower, and a larger building next to Carelli’s had a lower assessment, too. His argument was similar buildings were not uniformly assessed, he said.

And, OPA agreed.

The office usually doesn’t. So far, many of the roughly 50,000 review requests were denied with a capital “D,” for the most part because property owners didn’t even try to prove their points, said Michael Piper, the OPA’s deputy chief assessment officer.

The burden of proving an assessment is too high is on the taxpayer. Those who didn’t back up their assertions as Carelli did, did not fare well. Even those who do are not guaranteed success.

If Carelli hadn’t gotten such good news from OPA, he could have appealed to the Board of Revision of Taxes to lower his assessments. The deadline to do that was Oct. 7.

Last week, the BRT had logged in 5,500 appeals, according to Executive Director Carla Pagan, who added there might be another 5,500 to put into the system.

The final count should be ready by month’s end, she said. ••

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