Monday, September 21, 2009

Grayslake group look at challenging property tax process

by Mick Zawisilak
Daily Herald

A Grayslake-based watchdog group is about to zero in on the nuts and bolts of property taxes.

The Citizens Action Project plans to take on the tax levy process - the amounts local taxing bodies determine they need to operate.

"This is the exploratory phase," said Steve Minsky, vice president of the group formed in 2007 by residents upset with jumps in the assessed value of their homes.

Details of what the exploratory phase may involve could surface during a CAP event at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21, at the Byron Colby Barn, 1561 Jones Point Road, Grayslake.

But the program, "What to Expect When the Property Taxman is Expecting," is largely congratulations on recent successes, as well as a look ahead to 2010.

The presentation promises a discussion "dissecting each facet of how government arrives at our tax bills."

Featured speakers include Marty Paulson, chief county assessment officer; Kipp Wilson of the county's tax extension office and a local school district representative.

Minsky says next year could be a good news-bad news situation for taxpayers.

"They'll see some great news, that their assessment will probably go down," he said.

"However, the schools still have to make their quotas and budgets, so our tax bills probably won't go down very much."

Since assessments in Lake County are based on a three-year average, the 2009 measure will reflect two years of a down market, resulting in a drop in property values.

But assessments are only half of the equation regarding property tax mills, Minsky said.

The other half is the tax levy, the amount of money each school district requests from property taxes.

When the assessed value of property goes down, the tax rate needs to go up to raise the same amount of money for the school district.

Minsky said their mission is to assure the way local entities arrive at their calculations is fair and open.

This is what he says is the "toughest phase" of the group's work."

The group fought for clarity in the assessment process, resulting in a state law - the Homestead Assessment Transparency Act - which replaces Lake County's "blue cards" with a letter-sized assessment notice.

The new notices, which were mailed for the first time this year, provide more information about the property, the assessment process, the appeals process and where tax dollars are spent.

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