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.

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