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.

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