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."


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