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.


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