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.
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."
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, www.lakecountyil.gov, where taxpayers will be able to e-mailing questions they have about their assessments.http://www.pioneerlocal.com/highlandpark/news/1733667,lake-county-assessments-082709-s1.article