Friday, December 11, 2009

Success with CAP's guidance

I was able to lower my assessment about 23% with your information. Just wanted to let you know your doing good work.

WB, Lake County resident.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A few thoughts after Monday's event

I’d like to thank all of the elected officials and taxpayers who’ve helped us, Marty Paulson and our other panelists, Sen. Bond and Rep. Ed Sullivan and our board Steve Minsky, Dick Hosteny, Jack Bigelow, Frank Mynard and Thor Madsen. There are countless others and I salute you. We are neighbors working together in a democratic way.

About two years ago, angry taxpayers were ready to burn their blue cards and tax bills. They shouted taxation without representation! They were ready to ignite an effigy of a public official – it didn’t matter whom.

Fortunately, after a group of neighbors got together and organized into our non-profit, non-partisan group – The Citizens Action Project – we put together our first white paper on the assessment process. We concluded that it lacked fairness, accountability and transparency. We then submitted our findings to the Lake County Board, the media and to anyone who was interested. But our non-profit, non-partisan, all-volunteer group didn’t stop there.

We thought there should be a law against covering up or failing to disclose how our homes are valued for tax purposes. So we sought the help of Sen. Michael Bond in writing legislation. We literally took our ideas from porch to porch, living room to living room, to craft a bill. Along the way, we solicited the support of State Rep. Ed Sullivan, Jr., who is also the Fremont Township assessor. Together, and I mean in a true collaboration that eliminated party lines and partisan differences, we hewed together a strong bill to open up the vagaries of assessments.

But Illinois politics being what it is and despite our champions’ great efforts in deflecting various lobbies and opponents, passing both houses didn’t get this bill to the governor’s desk last year. You would’ve had an easier time getting Elvis to do one last concert than unravel the mess in Springfield that held up our bill. In fact, given what’s happened in state politics over the last year, it seems like Elvis is still indeed alive, if in another form.

Then the extraordinary happened. The General Assembly realized that nothing would get done without a big change and it transacted one. Our bill was reintroduced, was passed by both houses and quietly signed by Governor Quinn – perhaps too quietly for us. The Homeowners Assessment Transparency Act is a cause for celebration and a tool for taxpayer rights!

So here we are, a new law in hand to help you ask the right questions. Instead of tormenting an inflamed angry mob, democracy has achieved a rare moment of success in the prairie state. We hope to illuminate at least one problem that has vexed taxpayers for years.


I’m sure many of you have received your assessment notices from the county assessment office. What used to be called a blue card now contains six times more information than its postcard predecessor.

Now you know precisely who to contact to ask questions about your assessment, how much your land and building rose or declined in value, and most importantly, how to appeal your valuation. On the back of the form is how the tax process works and exemptions that may apply.

Of course, this new form does not tell you exactly how your assessment was calculated and precisely why it went up or down. You’ll still need to contact the chief county and township assessor to ask how equalizations and valuations work.

Although they might tell you it’s part of a computer program, don’t take that for an answer. Ask about comparable properties used in their formula. Ask about how the formula is arrived at. And if you’re not satisfied with their answers, challenge them with a formal, certified appraisal or a list of similar properties.

You also have a right to appeal, which we discovered in our last white paper, isn’t the fairest process, either. We’re working on that with a special commission chaired by Pat Carey, our local county board rep. The bottom line is: IF you don’t think your assessment is fair, challenge it, first through the local assessor, then through the board of review or state tax appeal board. There’s more on our website:

This is some of the work we’ve done and we will continue to do more.

We are pushing to improve the board of review process. We don’t think appellants get a fair shake when they appeal their assessments and we want to fix the process.

Since we’ve organized, we’ve seen new, improved rules come out of the Board that open up the mystery behind what constitutes a good case for an appeal. Of course we have much more to do and will do more with your help.

We’re also looking into the other side of the tax bill – levies. These are the percentages that each taxing body takes from your property taxes to run things like schools, libraries and towns. Tonight we’re hoping to understand a little better how that system works. We’re also looking into the massive number of taxing bodies in Illinois, which has more of them than any other state. Rather than decry or identify each one of them – and there are more than 6,000 – we hope to understand if any of them can be consolidated to lower property-tax bills. Again, with your help, we can do that.

How can you help? You can donate time, money or your expertise. We need informed board members to help guide our mission. We need folks who have done grant writing and fundraising. We need analysts and auditors. If we do this right, we will be able to build a team of citizen auditors who are independently checking to see that our tax dollars are being spent prudently and can suggest ways to save.

So if you can help, please see any of our board members before your leave, or sign a sheet at the door. We can also take donations. If you choose to volunteer, the pay is lousy but the satisfaction infinite. Democracy may be a messy business, but ii can’t work unless we all get involved in some way. I think our group is proof that a small group can make a huge impact.

Thanks again and keep fighting for fairness, accountability and transparency!

John Wasik
President, CAP

Monday, September 21, 2009

CAP on WBEZ's Eight Forty Eight

If you would like to know why began and what the future holds, this is a must listen.

Grayslake group look at challenging property tax process

by Mick Zawisilak
Daily Herald

A Grayslake-based watchdog group is about to zero in on the nuts and bolts of property taxes.

The Citizens Action Project plans to take on the tax levy process - the amounts local taxing bodies determine they need to operate.

"This is the exploratory phase," said Steve Minsky, vice president of the group formed in 2007 by residents upset with jumps in the assessed value of their homes.

Details of what the exploratory phase may involve could surface during a CAP event at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21, at the Byron Colby Barn, 1561 Jones Point Road, Grayslake.

But the program, "What to Expect When the Property Taxman is Expecting," is largely congratulations on recent successes, as well as a look ahead to 2010.

The presentation promises a discussion "dissecting each facet of how government arrives at our tax bills."

Featured speakers include Marty Paulson, chief county assessment officer; Kipp Wilson of the county's tax extension office and a local school district representative.

Minsky says next year could be a good news-bad news situation for taxpayers.

"They'll see some great news, that their assessment will probably go down," he said.

"However, the schools still have to make their quotas and budgets, so our tax bills probably won't go down very much."

Since assessments in Lake County are based on a three-year average, the 2009 measure will reflect two years of a down market, resulting in a drop in property values.

But assessments are only half of the equation regarding property tax mills, Minsky said.

The other half is the tax levy, the amount of money each school district requests from property taxes.

When the assessed value of property goes down, the tax rate needs to go up to raise the same amount of money for the school district.

Minsky said their mission is to assure the way local entities arrive at their calculations is fair and open.

This is what he says is the "toughest phase" of the group's work."

The group fought for clarity in the assessment process, resulting in a state law - the Homestead Assessment Transparency Act - which replaces Lake County's "blue cards" with a letter-sized assessment notice.

The new notices, which were mailed for the first time this year, provide more information about the property, the assessment process, the appeals process and where tax dollars are spent.

Friday, September 18, 2009

CAP will be on WBEZ's Eight Forty Eight

Tune in Monday, September 21st at 9AM where CAP Vice President will be interviewed by Eight Forty Eight host Richard Steele. WBEZ is 91.5 on the FM dial.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Tax Bill Session Sept. 21 in Grayslake

September 4, 2009

GRAYSLAKE -- A discussion of the tax assessment process will be held at 7 p.m. Sept. 21 at Byron Colby Barn, 1561 Jones Point Road.

Lake County Chief Assessor Martin Paulson, James Glogovsky of the county's Tax Extension Office and Andrew Searle, business manager of Fremont School District 79, will be guest speakers at the event.

"We feel that we've made tremendous progress in making the property assessment and appeal process more transparent," said Citizens Action Project President John Wasik. "The third phase is breaking down the tax bill itself. That's where we feel the focus should be."

Assessing property received a makeover with the Homestead Assessment Transparency Act, which requires assessors to put more detailed information on assessment notices that are mailed yearly to property owners, Wasik said, noting that CAP helped prepare language for the bill.

"CAP started because of a few frustrated citizens who wanted answers and action," he said. "Only through the support of citizens who attend our events and show their elected representatives that they are not satisfied are we able to have a voice."

For more information, see .,5_1_WA04_TAXINFO_S1-090904.article

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Assessment notices offer more information

August 27, 2009

Lake County residents have begun receiving their property tax assessment notices for 2009 in the mail -- and they may notice something slightly different this year.

In past years, homeowners received a small postcard often referred to as a "blue card" containing their property assessment valuation for the current year. The 2009 assessment notices are still blue but are printed on a legal sized sheet which contains a great deal more information about the assessments.

"Clearly, a lot more information is available for taxpayers on this form," said Martin Paulson, chief county assessment officer for Lake County.

So far, nearly 100,000 assessment notices have been sent out to homeowners in Lake County, according to Paulson. The first notices were sent out to homeowners in Moraine, Libertyville and Zion townships in mid-August. Shields and Cuba townships were sent out last week, and taxpayers in Antioch and Ela townships were expected to receive their forms this week. Assessment notices for other townships will be mailed out in September through November.

Despite the nationwide downturn in the housing market, Paulson said assessments in many townships will likely be flat or down only slightly this year, while other townships may actually see a slight increase in assessments. That's because assessments are based on an average of the previous three years sales activity.

Taxing bodies

The county's new assessment notice will provide basic assessed valuation information, as well as some property characteristics of the property, a breakdown of last year's property tax bill and the percentage of money that goes to different taxing bodies, and a graphic describing the assessment cycle and the tax district levy process.

The form also includes more information on how to file a property tax appeal, as well as information about homestead exemptions that may be available to Lake County homeowners.

"We know that there are some people that aren't getting homestead exemptions, for one reason or another," Paulson said. "Many times, they don't know it's available. That's particularly relevant for seniors because there are more benefits available to them."

New legislation

The new assessment notices were developed largely in response to new legislation sponsored by State Sen. Michael Bond, D-32nd, of Grayslake, aimed at increasing transparency and improving homeowners understanding of their assessments and the assessment process.

Senate Bill 207, also known as the Homestead Assessment Transparency Act, requires assessment notices provide residents with an explanation of how their property assessments were calculated, in addition to the property's current and past value, and notices also must include an explanation of the procedure to follow if homeowners believe there are problems with their assessments. County officials will be required to post this information on the county's Web sites and to provide clear explanations of how property taxes are equalized.

Bond said the legislation came out of work of the Citizen Action Project, a tax assessment watchdog group based in Grayslake.

"We're hopeful that this legislation will be the first step toward wholesale reform of the tax assessment process," he said. "Taxpayers are demanding more accountability for the use of their tax dollars."

Paulson said while the state statue doesn't take effect until the 2010 assessment cycle, the county revised its form this year to provide additional information for taxpayers.

"I think we knew it was coming," he said. "When the legislation passed, we were already kind of working on a parallel track."

In addition to the new assessment forms, Paulson said the assessor's office also is providing more information about the assessment process on the county Web site and is hosting informational assessment tax help centers throughout the county. Paulson and County Treasurer Robert Skidmore also will have a live chat on Sept. 1 at 11 a.m. on the county's Web site,, where taxpayers will be able to e-mailing questions they have about their assessments.,lake-county-assessments-082709-s1.article

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A look at assessmment.

Courtesy of Lake County Journal

To the Editor:
Citizens Action Project, a Lake County-based, nonprofit organization who's mission is to bring fairness, transparency, and accountability to the property assessment process, is proud to announce the signing of SB 0207, the Homestead Assessment Transparency Act. Governor Pat Quinn signed the bill into law last week.

This legislation is a victory for the Illinois property owner. For too long, they have been in the dark about how assessors calculate property assessments. Moreover, information on what recourse property owners had to challenge their assessments was very confusing. No longer. All of this information will now arrive in the mail on a single sheet of paper as their blue card.

The legislation, written by CAP and Sen. Michael Bond, D-Grayslake, and championed by Rep. Ed Sullivan Jr., R-Mundelein, gives the taxpayer a clearer understanding of how their assessments are calculated. Excluding Cook County, property owners will see new information on their blue cards (for an example, contact the chief county assessor of Lake County, the first county to role out the new format) that give property owners a clearer understanding of their assessments and recourse if they wish to appeal.

CAP will be celebrating the passage of SB 0207 at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21, at the Byron Colby Barn, 1561 Jones Point Road, in Grayslake as part of "Understanding Your Tax Bill," a moderated discussion with Lake County chief assessor Martin Paulson; James Glogovsky of the Tax Extension Office, and Andrew Searle, business manager of Fremont School District 79.

To learn more, visit,

Steve Minsky
Vice president of Citizens Action Project

Monday, August 10, 2009

Lake County: reading your property assessment

Lake County should be commended for how well they now inform property owners about their assessments and tax bills. Here is yet another example explaining the blue card new layout:

Friday, August 7, 2009

Governor signs CAP bill into law.


Governor Signs Assessment Bill

Grayslake, IL August 7, 2009 -- Citizens Action Project (CAP), a Lake County-based nonprofit organization who's mission is to bring fairness, transparency, and accountability to the property assessment process, is proud to announce the signing of SB0207, the Homestead Assessment Transparency Act, Governor Pat Quinn signed the bill into law on Tuesday.

According to Steve Minsky, Vice President of Citizens Action Project, "This legislation is a victory for the Illinois property owner. For too long, they have been in the dark about how assessors calculate property assessments. Moreover, information on what recourse property owners had to challenge their assessments was very confusing. No longer. All of this information will now arrive in the mail on a single sheet of paper as their blue card."

The legislation, written by CAP and Senator Michael Bond, and championed by Rep. Ed Sullivan Jr., gives the taxpayer a clearer understanding of how their assessments are calculated. Excluding Cook County, property owners will see new information on their blue cards (for an example, contact the Chief County Assessor of Lake County, the first county to role out the new format) that give property owners a clearer understanding of their assessments and recourse if they wish to appeal.

CAP will be celebrating the passage of SB0207 on Monday, September 21st at 7PM at Byron Colby Barn in Grayslake as part of "Understanding Your Tax Bill," a moderated discussion with Lake County Chief Assessor Martin Paulson, James Glogovsky of the Tax Extension Office, and Andrew Searle, Fremont School District 79 Business Manager.


Steve Minsky
Citizens Action Project

Lake Co. property assessments coming soon

Lake County property owners will receive redesigned assessment notices starting next week. Gone are the familiar blue postcards. Instead, the information will be presented on blue, letter-sized paper and contain more information about the property, the assessment process and where tax dollars go after checks are written.

"We want people to understand who's getting what," said Marty Paulson, the county's chief assessment officer. "Taxpayers need to start understanding that a little better." About 273,000 of the annual notices will be mailed gradually through November. Every property owner will get one, not merely people whose land value has been reassessed.

The notice's new look was partially prompted by state legislation designed to make the assessment process clearer. It was signed into law Tuesday and is effective statewide next year, Paulson said. Lake County officials began work on the redesign last year, however. Paulson said, long before the legislation was approved. "We pretty much knew it was coming," he said of the law.

The new forms include a lot more information than the old cards. One new box lists characteristics about the property, such as the size of a house and the year it was built. If that data is incorrect, Paulson said, a property owner should call their township assessor. The forms also have information about homestead exemptions and contact information for township officials, including e-mail addresses.

Although assessments help determine your property-tax bill, these notices are not tax bills. In Lake County, those statements go out every May and are due in two installments. County officials want to remind people that property values aren't necessarily decreasing because of the current recession and slumping housing market. Assessors use three years of data to determine assessed values, which are different from home values, county spokeswoman Jennie Khoen explained. The new assessments are based on property sales from 2006, 2007 and 2008. Next year's property-tax bills could reflect the housing market's dive, Paulson said.

To learn more about the assessment process, visit The Web site will have answers to frequently asked questions, links to videos, a guide to reading an assessment notice and other information. You can also call Paulson's office at (847) 377-3050.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tax Bill Appeals Take Rising Toll on Governments

by Jack Healy
NY Times

The requests are coming in record numbers, from owners of $10 million estates and one-bedroom bungalows, from residents of the high-tax enclaves surrounding New York City, and from taxpayers in the Rust Belt and states like Arizona, Florida and California, where whole towns have been devastated by the housing bust.

“It’s worthy of a Dickens story,” said Gus Kramer, the assessor in Contra Costa County, Calif., outside San Francisco. “These people are desperate. They know their home’s gone down in value. They’ve watched their neighborhoods being boarded up. They literally stand in there and say: ‘When can I have my refund check? I need to feed my family. I need to pay my electric bill.’ ”

The tax appeals and reassessments present a new budget nightmare for governments. In a survey conducted by the National Association of Counties, 76 percent of large counties said that falling property tax revenue was significantly affecting their budgets, said Jacqueline Byers, the association’s research director.

Officials in some states say their property tax revenue is falling for the first time since World War II.

The recession has already taken a significant toll on states’ budgets, as rising joblessness, a weak business climate and a drop in consumer demand have cut sharply into receipts from taxes on sales, personal income and business earnings.

The pain at the state level is trickling down to county and local governments. To compensate, about 10 percent of large counties are raising the tax rates associated with home values to minimize the revenue loss, the county association said.

Even so, most counties simply have to absorb the lost revenue. Municipalities are laying off workers, renegotiating labor contracts, freezing salaries and cutting services.

The revenue losses are coming as homeowners prod towns for new assessments, and as municipalities conduct regular revaluations of their real estate. While declining residential values weigh heaviest on many governments, the value of commercial real estate is also sliding as businesses shut down and move out of storefronts or shopping malls.

Property taxes are meted out by a disparate patchwork of cities, towns, counties, and school and fire districts, all with their own rules. Because tax formulas vary widely county to county, not every decrease in assessed values automatically lowers a household’s property taxes.

But officials across the country say there is no question that the number of appeals has risen from the usual trickle to a flood.

In suburban Atlanta, thousands of people lined up at government offices to file their requests for reassessments before a March 31 deadline. In parts of Ohio, appeals have multiplied fivefold. Tax lawyers in the northern suburbs of New York say they have never been so busy, and some towns have hired extra employees to sift through the paperwork and are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees to deal with the cases in tax courts.

The call for counties to acknowledge the falling price of homes is loudest in states where taxes are highest, or the housing crisis has hit the hardest.

“We’ve been absolutely getting killed,” said Robert W. Singer, the mayor of Lakewood Township, N.J., and a state senator, whose town is setting aside $2 million to pay tax refunds to homeowners. “We’ve never had this before. Usually they’re undervalued. Now, everyone’s overvalued.”

The appeals are not just coming from individual homeowners. Condominium associations and entire subdivisions are pushing for new tax assessments, as are companies that own office towers, industrial parks and shopping malls.

New Jersey, which has the nation’s highest property taxes, has been besieged by tax appeals from homeowners like Peggy Tombro, whose rambling home in Bound Brook is assessed at a value of $1.8 million but is languishing on the market with an asking price of $1.3 million. Her taxes are increasing to $53,000 a year.

“I don’t know what else to do,” said Ms. Tombro, 63, who has gone back to work selling antiques to pay her tax bill.

In the Inland Empire of California, near Los Angeles, Joylette Lynch, 70, is challenging the assessed value of her home as she tries to scrape together $1,158 a month to pay her mortgage, taxes and other bills. Her two-bedroom house in a community for older residents was worth as much as $280,000 three years ago, but houses on her block are now selling for less than $100,000.

“If the house is not worth what I bought it for, why am I paying the same amount in taxes?” she asked.

Ms. Lynch, meanwhile, lost her job at a Bed, Bath & Beyond this year, and is behind on her mortgage payments. Shaving a few hundred dollars off her annual tax bill of $4,300 might not keep her out of foreclosure, but it would help, she said.

“Everything’s in God’s hands now,” she said.

Officials say stories like these are common as unemployment hits 9.5 percent and people seek to trim their budgets. Appraisers and assessors, normally concerned with land values and comparable sales, are becoming ersatz crisis counselors.

Jeff Furst, the appraiser in St. Lucie County, Fla., said a 62-year-old man recently walked into his office and described how his wife had been laid off and his salary had been cut in half. He was struggling to pay his taxes and looking for relief, Mr. Furst said.

“We’re hearing from people like this every day,” Mr. Furst said. In St. Lucie, which sits along the Atlantic, property tax revenue is expected to fall 20 percent, and tax appeals are 10 times as high as they are normally. “Most people are going to see a significant decline in their tax bill.”

Mr. Kramer, the assessor in Contra Costa County, said homeowners started swamping his office with requests for new assessments in December. As many as 500 people would call in one day. His voice mail message now begins: “If you’re calling to request an informal review of your property value due to the declining real estate market.”

Contra Costa has now reduced the recorded value of more than a third of the 350,000 privately owned properties in the county.

Lisa Driscoll, the county’s budget director, said property tax revenue had been growing about 8 to 9 percent a year but was now projected to decline 5 percent next year. The county has cut $50 million from its budget to offset the decline in real estate and other taxes.

Bonnie Grassley’s house in Fort Pierce, Fla., reflects the rise and fall of the broader economy. Its assessed value topped $153,000 in 2006, as Florida’s housing market caught fire. Now, it is worth $77,500.

Though her tax bill is only $150 a month, Ms. Grassley is out of work, spending her savings, and says she hopes a reassessment will save a couple hundred dollars a year.

“My home means everything to me, and it’s all I really have,” Ms. Grassley said. “I’m determined to keep it, come hell or high water. It’s a terrible way to lose your home, just over taxes.”

Friday, May 15, 2009

Property Tax Rates and Property Market Values

The Docket, a publication put out by the Lake County Bar Association, wrote a very good piece on understanding both sides of the property tax equation: assessments and tax rates.

Friday, May 1, 2009

SB0207 update

SB0207, CAP's Homestead Transparency legislation was approved by the Illinois Senate and passed out of the House Revenue committee with no opposition. It should be passed by the House shortly. When it passes the House, it goes to the Governor for his approval or veto. When the bill is transmitted to the Governor he has 60 days to act. If he fails to act in those 60 days it becomes law. We will continually update the bill's progress. You can also follow it here.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Group wants change in tax-appeal process

Group wants change in tax-appeal process
March 19, 2009


A tax assessment watchdog group wants an independent audit of the Lake County Board of Review over the way tax appeals are handled in the county.

The Citizens Action Project, a Grayslake-based assessment watchdog group, held a meeting Monday night regarding the tax assessment process at the Byron Colby Barn at Prairie Crossing. About 100 residents and local officials attended the meeting.

John Wasik, president of the Citizens Action Project, told the audience that a recent study by their group found significant problems in the way tax assessment appeals were handled by the Board of Review.

Wasik said their study found many residents complained about how they were treated by the Board of Review when they went before the board to appeal their assessments. Wasik also said commercial appeals were more likely to result in a reduction than residential appeals, and there was a significant discrepancy in the rates of successful appeals between townships.

He called on the Lake County Board to conduct an independent review of the tax appeal process.

"We're looking for an independent audit of the Board of Review to determine if it's indeed fair=8Bif it's indeed giving the taxpayers a fair shake," he said.

The citizens group invited township assessors and assessor candidates from throughout the county to attend the meeting. Fremont Township Assessor Ed Sullivan and Lake Villa Township Assessor Jeffrey Lee attended and spoke at the meeting, as well as Bryce Carus, who is running for Avon Township assessor, and Ela Township assessor candidate John Barrington.

Several residents expressed frustration at the meeting about the fairness of the assessment process.

Tony Niec of Grayslake said his assessments in Prairie Crossing were about 50 percent higher than other comparably sized homes in the township.

"The problem I see is gross disparity across the county and from neighborhood to neighborhood," he said.

Another resident complained that his assessments had increased dramatically, even though the housing market has been in a slump for the past two years.

Sullivan said assessors are required by state law to base their assessments on the last three years of home sales rather than a single year, which may account for why some people's property assessment have still gone up despite the sluggish housing market. He added that property tax rates also can vary significantly from one area to another, which may also explain why overall taxes are higher in certain areas.

But Sullivan, a Republican state representative from Mundelein, said he does support more transparency in the assessment process and has sponsored legislation over the years to make the process fairer. Sullivan said he personally believes that assessments could be handled more fairly by a single county assessor, rather than individual township assessors, but he said that would require a dramatic overhaul of county and township government in the state.

"I don't think there should be township assessors," he said. "I think there should be a county assessor for the entire county."


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Nonprofit urges assessment clarity

By Mick Zawislak
Daily Herald
March 17, 2009

How values are assigned to properties admittedly are confusing, but those in charge of the process agreed Monday that more information would be helpful.

The Citizens Action Projects, organizers of a public forum on the topic at the Byron Colby Barn in Grayslake, also publicly released a paper saying the panel that hears appeals needs to be more accountable.

"What we're trying to do is restore fairness, accountability and transparency to the assessment process," said John Wasik, president of the Citizens Action Project.

The not-for-profit group formed a few years ago in the Prairie Crossing neighborhood after assessments there rose dramatically.

Assessments are crucial because they are used as the basis to calculate tax bills.

"The housing market is really in bad shape and your assessments may not reflect that, but you have the right to appeal," Wasik said.

The group's second "white paper" focused on that process.

Among the findings was that the three-member Board of Review has "minimal accountability" and that the treatment of those who appeal is not always "respectful, impartial and professional."

The group also found residential appeals were less likely to result in reductions in value than commercial appeals and when appeals are rejected, the reason is not adequately explained.

"We're looking for an independent audit of the Board of Review to find if in fact it is fair," Wasik said.

Wasik acknowledged the assessment process has improved "quite a bit" over the past year as more information is made available to taxpayers.

About 100 people attended the session, including three county board members, several township assessors and Marty Paulson, Lake County's chief assessment officer.

"This is a very intimidating process," said Ed Sullivan Jr., Fremont Township assessor since 1994. He also is the 51st District state representative.

"Let's not kid ourselves. You guys are at a decided disadvantage," he said of the appeals process.

Sullivan and others said they and their staffs are always available to answer questions. Getting more and clearer information to taxpayers was another goal, they said.

Some audience members were not swayed, saying assessments should more accurately reflect dropping property values and that all 18 township assessors should follow the same standards.

Monday, March 16, 2009

CAP appears in Crain's Chicago Business

Crain's Chicago Business
March 16, 2009

No appeal to fee plan

Greg Hinz's Feb. 27 blog entry, "State board wants fee to appeal property taxes," about the state Property Tax Appeal Board, was on the mark. My group has found there is almost no support for property owners who want to contest their assessments.

This new fee proposal is just another deterrent. We propose that for this fee to even be considered, it must be reimbursed to the property owner if he or she wins the appeal.

Our group's new white paper, which deconstructs the inequities of appealing property assessments to the Lake County Board of Review, has a proposal: For any homeowner who pays for a certified appraisal to prove that they are being overassessed (which costs $325 and is the only way we have found to appeal successfully in Lake County), the appraisal fee should be reimbursed if the homeowner wins the appeal.

John Wasik
Citizen's Action Project

CAP's new white paper.

CAP is proud to present to the public, "Are You Getting a Fair Hearing: Appealing Your Property Taxes in Lake County."

Executive Summary (pdf)
Full White Paper (pdf)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Homeowners See U.S. Taxes Rise as Property Values Sink Amid Deficits

March 12 (Bloomberg) -- Americans battered by the biggest slump in home prices on record are facing higher property taxes as local governments struggle to plug budget deficits.

Municipal finance officers budgeted for a 3.6 percent drop in revenue from residential taxes this fiscal year, a survey by the U.S. League of Cities in September shows. With home prices down 12.4 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, the most ever for an index compiled by the National Association of Realtors, cities and counties are compensating with higher tax rates or appraisals, even where laws cap property-tax growth.

“The value you pay your taxes on went up while market value went down on half our properties,” said Chris Jones, the appraiser for Escambia County in Florida’s northwest tip. “Try to explain that to a homeowner.”

Cities and towns need to raise rates after their main sources of income -- sales, income and property taxes -- declined together in 2008 for the first time in 12 years, the League of Cities survey said. Higher costs may strap consumers who’ve cut spending in six of the last seven months, the Commerce Department’s Personal Consumption Index shows.

The rest of the piece is at this link:

Candidates for township assessor seats to speak at forum

Lake County Journal

GRAYSLAKE – Candidates for township assessor positions in Lake County will speak at 7 p.m. Monday, March 16, during a forum at the Byron Colby Barn, 1561 Jones Point Road, in Grayslake.

Learn more at

Forum scheduled for township candidates

Lake County News-Sun

March 12, 2009

Lake County township assessor candidates will participate in a moderated forum hosted by Citizens Action Project (CAP) on Monday at 7 p.m. at Byron Colby Barn in Grayslake.

The forum will allow assessor candidates to express their views and for residents to ask questions, in advance of the April 7 election.

"Since we formed CAP, we have said that township assessors have the most power and influence in making the assessment process fair and transparent," said CAP president John Wasik. "We find it of the utmost importance to give the public a forum in which to decide where to cast their vote."

Candidates from Avon, Ela, Fremont, Moraine and West Deerfield townships have been invited.

The event is open to the public. A $5 donation is suggested.

For more information, e-mail or visit,5_1_WA12_ASSESS_S1.article

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sneak Peek: CAP's new white paper

While the official release of our new white paper, "Are You Getting a Fair Hearing? Appealing Your Property Taxes in Lake County," is Monday, here are six important points that we found:

1) We found that appellants often feel rushed and humiliated at their hearings. This is directly related to how the Board members treat the appellants
(we have first person accounts of this in the white paper). Appellants feel rushed because they only have 15 minutes at the hearing. We feel appellants should be treated with respect and should have more than 15 minutes at their hearings.

2) After receiving their blue card,
appellants have only 30 days to get their appeal data to the Chief County Assessor. We feel this is an insufficient amount of time, especially if the appellant has to hire a certified appraiser.

3) We have received complaints from property owners that they received the Township Assessors "defense" packet 1-2 days, or sometimes even at the appeal itself. This leaves very little time to prepare a rebuttal. The packets are unintelligible for the layperson. Only an appraiser or assessor can understand it. While by law, the assessors are not under any specific deadline to get the packet to the appellant, we encourage the Lake County Board to demand at least one week prior to the hearing.

4) We discovered that at hearings, when presented with compelling comparable properties from the appellant and the assessor that back each parties argument, the Board of Review almost always sides with the assessor. What we could not understand is why there is never a sufficient explanation of why the Board chooses not to use the appellants comparables, even if they are compelling. While the law states that they have no responsibility to do so, CAP feels the Board should provide a sufficient explanation to the appellant.

5) Unless there is a glaring error, CAP has found that the only way to successfully reduce your assessment at an appeal is to get a certified appraisal. These cost between $300 and $325. CAP suggests that if an appellant wins a reduction at appeal, the County/Township should reimburse the appellant for the appraisal fee.

6) We think that the Chief County Assessor, who acts as the Clerk to the Board of review, could be seen as a conflict of interest.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Grayslake forum focuses on assessments

by Mick Zawislak
The Daily Herald

Township assessor may not be the most glamorous elected post, but the duties have a direct impact on every property owner.

The public is invited to get insight and opinions from candidates during a forum at 7 p.m. Monday, March 16 at the Byron Colby Barn, 1561 Jones Point Road, Grayslake.

"They should be held accountable. We definitely need to hear what the future is for township assessors," said Steve Minsky, vice president of the Citizens Action Project (CAP).

Candidates from Avon, Ela, Fremont, Moraine and West Deerfield townships have been invited to participate.

"Since we formed CAP, we have said that township assessors have the most power and influence in making the assessment process fair and transparent," said the group's president John Wasik.

At the forum, the two-year-old volunteer group also plans to unveil its new white paper, "Are You Getting a Fair Hearing? Appealing Your Property Taxes in Lake County."

The most recent assessment notices, known as blue cards, were of concern to some property owners, according to Minsky.

"They were definitely irked because as the market values went down, they didn't see a drop," in the assessment, he said. Assessments are supposed to represent one-third the market value of a property and are used as the basis for calculating tax bills.

"We thought it would be a very constructive forum to see what the future of assessments will be in the next four years," Minsky said.

The watchdog group arose after assessments increased dramatically in the Prairie Crossing subdivision in Grayslake. Their first white paper found alleged problems in the system that resulted in inaccurate assessments and uneven treatment of similar properties.

Since then, the county's Web site has been improved to include interactive features to assist homeowners with appeals, and a bill awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn's signature would make blue cards easier to interpret.

The second paper examines the appeals process.

"We've come up with a punch list of how we think the process can be more fair and transparent," Minsky said.

The group says those who appeal often feel rushed and humiliated and should be allowed more time at the hearings before the Board of Review.

It also says there should be more than 30 days from receiving the notice to appeal, and that those who hire an appraiser should be reimbursed by the county for that fee if their assessment is reduced.

Monday, March 2, 2009

State board wants fee to appeal property taxes

by Greg Hinz
Crain's Chicago Business

So you think your property taxes are too high and want to appeal? Doing so will cost you at least 25 bucks if a state agency that handles appeals gets its way.

In a formal legal notice filed Friday, the state Property Tax Appeals Board, known as PTAB, said it intends to begin charging from $25 for fairly small appeals filed by homeowners to as much as $450 for multi-million-dollar cases filed by factory and office-tower owners.

"This is not something we want to do, but our back is up against the wall," said PTAB Executive Director Louis Apostol. "We've been operating with a limited budget and staff, but the number of appeals is increasing precipitously." In fact, Mr. Apostol said, the agency's budget is half of what it was in 2003, when Cook County Assessor James Houlihan engineered a roughly 50% cut in the agency's budget in an attempt to limit its jurisdiction to areas of the state outside of Cook County. PTAB still hears cases from all areas -- some of them very controversial -- but now has a two- to three-year backlog of cases, Mr. Apostol said. The new fees would bring in a projected $1 million a year, boosting PTAB's budget to about $3.5 million.

Mr. Apostol said the notice, filed with a legislative body known as the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR), was submitted with the encouragement of Gov. Pat Quinn's Office of Management and Budget. Mr. Quinn's spokesman did not have an immediate comment on that and state Sen. Maggie Crotty, D-Oak Forest, co-chair of JCAR, did not return a phone call. JCAR could block the fee by a majority vote of its members, all legislators. But Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a Chicago watchdog and tax-policy group, said PTAB needs to specifically spell out what property owners will get for their money and even then could face his opposition. "PTAB is known as the 'poor-person's court'," Mr. Msall said. "This has the potential to restrict access to PTAB."

Mr. Apostol noted that property owners first can appeal to their county assessor and, in Cook County, to the independent Board of Review. "We're the third level of appeal."

Steve Minsky (CAP) - should we be surprised by this proposed fee? No. The counties and state want to dissuade you from appealing your property assessments, period. How about making the fee fullly refundable if the property owner wins the PTAB appeal?

In our new white paper to be published in mid-March, we are proposing that a homeowner who needs to pay for an appraisal to prove his/her property is being over-assessed, the appraisal fee should be reimbursed by the Chief County Assessor (Lake) if the property owner wins the appeal.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Township Assessor Forum

Grayslake, IL February 24, 2009 -- Lake County Township Assessor candidates will participate in a moderated forum hosted by Citizens Action Project on March 16th at 7PM at Byron Colby Barn in Grayslake.

CAP, the Lake County-based property assessment watchdog, will also announce its new white paper, "Are you Getting a Fair Hearing? Appealing Your Property Taxes in Lake County," revealing problems with the Board of Review appeals process and what can be done to fix it.
The future of property assessments will be front and center on April 6th when every Lake County Township Assessor office will be up for a vote. Rarely has there been a forum for assessor candidates to express their vision, and even less of an opportunity for Lake County citizens to ask questions.

According to CAP President John Wasik, "Since we formed CAP, we have said that township assessors have the most power and influence in making the assessment process fair and transparent. We find it of the utmost importance to give the pubic a forum in which to decide where to cast their vote." Candidates from Avon, Ela, Fremont, Moraine, and West Deerfield townships have been invited.

CAP published its new white paper illuminating the inner workings of the Board of Review because they found the same lack of transparency, fairness, and accountability that prompted "Assessing the Assessments," their first white paper casting a light on the Chief County Assessor and Township Assessors.

CAP was formed in 2007 as a volunteer organization dedicated to fairness, accountability, and transparency in public agencies. Since then, CAP has exerted significant influence in creating change including:

-Vastly improved Lake County website for property assessments with interactive features to assist the homeowner with preparing an appeal.

-Helping hundreds appeal their property assessments successfully.

-The introduction of SB 2820, The Homestead Transparency Act, aimed at making blue cards easier to interpret for taxpayers. The bill has passed both the house and senate and is being considered by Governor Quinn.

However, CAP's mission will go unfulfilled until the fundamental flaws in the assessment process are resolved. According to Wasik, "there is no better time than April 6th to have your say in how Lake County citizens will be assessed for the next four years." The event is open to the public. Five dollar donation suggested. For more information, email, go to, or visit their blog at


Steve Minsky
Vice President, CAP

Friday, January 30, 2009

Monday, January 5, 2009

Calls Grow to Cap Property Taxes

Support for property-tax rollbacks is building from Arizona to New York, fueled by angry homeowners in some locales who are seeing rising tax bills despite plunging home prices.

Protesters angered by rising property-tax assessments in Hampton, N.H., release tea into the wind in a re-enactment of the Boston Tea Party.

Legislatures in New York, Georgia, Oklahoma and Wyoming are considering taking up proposals to curb property taxes in their 2009 sessions. In Indiana, a cap on property taxes enacted last year became effective Jan. 1, and lawmakers are planning to vote this year on whether to put before voters a constitutional amendment that would cap taxes permanently at 1% of a property's value.

In recent months, citizen groups in Montana, Nevada and Arizona have organized to get property-tax-relief measures on state ballots. Florida voters last year amended the state's constitution to increase a number of property-tax exemptions, lowering their assessments.

"We just can't afford these increases in property taxes," said Lynne Weaver, a 59-year-old retired swimsuit saleswoman in Phoenix, who said her investment nest egg "has pretty well been cut in half" by market declines. She is a leading volunteer for Prop. 13 Arizona, an organization collecting signatures seeking a 2010 ballot measure that would roll back home valuations to 2003, before the boom that preceded the bust in home prices, and which would also cap annual property-tax increases at 2% of home value.

New York City boosted property taxes by 7% effective Jan. 1, and other towns in the state are also sending out higher bills, even as Gov. David Paterson and some legislative leaders are supporting a recent report that recommended a 4% statewide cap in property-tax increases. A commission empaneled by Gov. Paterson's predecessor called for the cap in response to concern that the state's levies -- among the highest in the nation on property -- were curbing growth and encouraging migration.

[A Heavier Burden chart]

Taxes can go up when prices decline because assessed values lag behind market realities. The values that cities and towns use to calculate tax bills are often based on house sales a year or more before the bills are issued. That means that many recent bills don't take into account the meltdown of 2008, when house prices fell by an average of about 20% across the country.

In addition, cities and towns are facing a barrage of recession-related financial pressures, including cuts in state aid and investment losses. That is tempting many to look for added revenue from property taxes, one of the few revenue sources they control.

That has set the stage for more tension between taxpayers and municipal officials hard-pressed to pay bills.

"It's pretty hard not to institute some increase in property taxes," said Stephen Altieri, town administrator of Mamaroneck, N.Y., whose town board voted Dec. 17 to raise the town property-tax rate in a main part of the New York City suburb to $14.25 per $1,000 in assessed home value, from $10.20. Mr. Altieri said Mamaroneck is facing a "sort of a perfect storm" because of declining investments, and falling revenue from a 1.3% tax it receives on the value of new mortgages. Along with raising property taxes, the town is also trimming its own spending, he says.

In Evans, N.Y., outside Buffalo, October assessments reflected strong home prices through July 1, 2007, and residents were so irked that they picketed Town Hall, started a Web site, and presented the town clerk with a petition calling for the assessments to be thrown out. The town declined to do that, but it says it has been hearing individual appeals.

Parts of the country that felt the real-estate bust early have seen some reductions in property taxes, but some residents in communities that were hit by the downturn later are in shock.

"Disbelief" is how 55-year-old John Kane, a financial adviser, describes his reaction to the assessed value of his home in Hampton, N.H., which soared 55% to $850,200 recently, from $549,300 in 2007. His annual taxes jumped 30%, to nearly $14,000. "We see empty houses, for-sale signs," Mr. Kane said. "And they value our houses like this?"

About 100 Hampton residents formed a group called the Coalition for a Fair Assessment, and staged a protest at Hampton Harbor, waving tea bags in a mini re-enactment of the Boston Tea Party. The group urged local homeowners to appeal their bills -- which many are doing. They also got on the Town Council's agenda on Monday to advocate a reassessment that reflects the real-estate slump.

In Louisiana's St. Tammany Parish, north of New Orleans, tax assessor Patricia Schwarz Core said 15,000 residents have requested a formal review of their 2008 revaluations, compared with 500 in a typical revaluation.

On his Web site, Louisiana state Rep. Kevin Pearson, a Republican, calls the 2008 revaluations in St. Tammany ridiculous and says some residents saw their assessed values jump 150% since the revaluation four years ago. In an interview, he said he is working with other legislators to craft an agenda for the next session that may include limits on increases in tax bills and more oversight of local taxing entities.

In Wyoming, rising property assessments have "stirred up some problems, especially for fixed-income people," said state Rep. Rodney Anderson, a Republican who is chairman of the Wyoming House of Representatives' revenue committee. Last month, Mr. Anderson was part of a joint committee of legislative leaders that endorsed a bill that would exempt part of a home's value from property taxes.

"People are just astounded that this year, of all years," the assessed value "of their property has increased," said Georgia Rep. Larry O'Neal, a Republican and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee of the state's House of Representatives. Mr. O'Neal said he supports a bill that would bar communities from raising taxes by increasing assessed values, eliminating what he calls "the back-door tax increase." If it passes, entities would have to go through the public -- and often difficult -- process of raising rates to increase revenue. He expects the bill will be taken up by the legislature this year.

Write to Jennifer Levitz at