Thursday, March 19, 2009

Group wants change in tax-appeal process

Group wants change in tax-appeal process
March 19, 2009

By JOHN ROSZKOWSKI

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."

(http://www.pioneerlocal.com/gurnee/news/1481365,gu-assessment-031909-s1.article)

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.

http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=279491&src=44

Monday, March 16, 2009

CAP appears in Crain's Chicago Business

Crain's Chicago Business
March 16, 2009

No appeal to fee plan

Greg Hinz's Feb. 27 blog entry, "State board wants fee to appeal property taxes," about the state Property Tax Appeal Board, was on the mark. My group has found there is almost no support for property owners who want to contest their assessments.

This new fee proposal is just another deterrent. We propose that for this fee to even be considered, it must be reimbursed to the property owner if he or she wins the appeal.

Our group's new white paper, which deconstructs the inequities of appealing property assessments to the Lake County Board of Review, has a proposal: For any homeowner who pays for a certified appraisal to prove that they are being overassessed (which costs $325 and is the only way we have found to appeal successfully in Lake County), the appraisal fee should be reimbursed if the homeowner wins the appeal.

John Wasik
President
Citizen's Action Project
Grayslake

CAP's new white paper.

CAP is proud to present to the public, "Are You Getting a Fair Hearing: Appealing Your Property Taxes in Lake County."

Executive Summary (pdf)
Full White Paper (pdf)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Homeowners See U.S. Taxes Rise as Property Values Sink Amid Deficits

March 12 (Bloomberg) -- Americans battered by the biggest slump in home prices on record are facing higher property taxes as local governments struggle to plug budget deficits.

Municipal finance officers budgeted for a 3.6 percent drop in revenue from residential taxes this fiscal year, a survey by the U.S. League of Cities in September shows. With home prices down 12.4 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, the most ever for an index compiled by the National Association of Realtors, cities and counties are compensating with higher tax rates or appraisals, even where laws cap property-tax growth.

“The value you pay your taxes on went up while market value went down on half our properties,” said Chris Jones, the appraiser for Escambia County in Florida’s northwest tip. “Try to explain that to a homeowner.”

Cities and towns need to raise rates after their main sources of income -- sales, income and property taxes -- declined together in 2008 for the first time in 12 years, the League of Cities survey said. Higher costs may strap consumers who’ve cut spending in six of the last seven months, the Commerce Department’s Personal Consumption Index shows.

The rest of the piece is at this link:

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601213&sid=aWSD3gPg9s7o&refer=home

Candidates for township assessor seats to speak at forum

Lake County Journal

GRAYSLAKE – Candidates for township assessor positions in Lake County will speak at 7 p.m. Monday, March 16, during a forum at the Byron Colby Barn, 1561 Jones Point Road, in Grayslake.

Learn more at www.citizensactionproject.org.

http://www.lakecountyjournals.com/articles/2009/03/11/48542484/index.xml

Forum scheduled for township candidates

Lake County News-Sun

March 12, 2009

Lake County township assessor candidates will participate in a moderated forum hosted by Citizens Action Project (CAP) on Monday at 7 p.m. at Byron Colby Barn in Grayslake.

The forum will allow assessor candidates to express their views and for residents to ask questions, in advance of the April 7 election.

"Since we formed CAP, we have said that township assessors have the most power and influence in making the assessment process fair and transparent," said CAP president John Wasik. "We find it of the utmost importance to give the public a forum in which to decide where to cast their vote."

Candidates from Avon, Ela, Fremont, Moraine and West Deerfield townships have been invited.

The event is open to the public. A $5 donation is suggested.

For more information, e-mail info@citizensactionproject.org or visit www.citizensactionproject.org.

http://www.suburbanchicagonews.com/newssun/news/1472098,5_1_WA12_ASSESS_S1.article

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sneak Peek: CAP's new white paper

While the official release of our new white paper, "Are You Getting a Fair Hearing? Appealing Your Property Taxes in Lake County," is Monday, here are six important points that we found:

1) We found that appellants often feel rushed and humiliated at their hearings. This is directly related to how the Board members treat the appellants
(we have first person accounts of this in the white paper). Appellants feel rushed because they only have 15 minutes at the hearing. We feel appellants should be treated with respect and should have more than 15 minutes at their hearings.

2) After receiving their blue card,
appellants have only 30 days to get their appeal data to the Chief County Assessor. We feel this is an insufficient amount of time, especially if the appellant has to hire a certified appraiser.

3) We have received complaints from property owners that they received the Township Assessors "defense" packet 1-2 days, or sometimes even at the appeal itself. This leaves very little time to prepare a rebuttal. The packets are unintelligible for the layperson. Only an appraiser or assessor can understand it. While by law, the assessors are not under any specific deadline to get the packet to the appellant, we encourage the Lake County Board to demand at least one week prior to the hearing.

4) We discovered that at hearings, when presented with compelling comparable properties from the appellant and the assessor that back each parties argument, the Board of Review almost always sides with the assessor. What we could not understand is why there is never a sufficient explanation of why the Board chooses not to use the appellants comparables, even if they are compelling. While the law states that they have no responsibility to do so, CAP feels the Board should provide a sufficient explanation to the appellant.

5) Unless there is a glaring error, CAP has found that the only way to successfully reduce your assessment at an appeal is to get a certified appraisal. These cost between $300 and $325. CAP suggests that if an appellant wins a reduction at appeal, the County/Township should reimburse the appellant for the appraisal fee.

6) We think that the Chief County Assessor, who acts as the Clerk to the Board of review, could be seen as a conflict of interest.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Grayslake forum focuses on assessments

by Mick Zawislak
The Daily Herald

Township assessor may not be the most glamorous elected post, but the duties have a direct impact on every property owner.

The public is invited to get insight and opinions from candidates during a forum at 7 p.m. Monday, March 16 at the Byron Colby Barn, 1561 Jones Point Road, Grayslake.

"They should be held accountable. We definitely need to hear what the future is for township assessors," said Steve Minsky, vice president of the Citizens Action Project (CAP).

Candidates from Avon, Ela, Fremont, Moraine and West Deerfield townships have been invited to participate.

"Since we formed CAP, we have said that township assessors have the most power and influence in making the assessment process fair and transparent," said the group's president John Wasik.

At the forum, the two-year-old volunteer group also plans to unveil its new white paper, "Are You Getting a Fair Hearing? Appealing Your Property Taxes in Lake County."

The most recent assessment notices, known as blue cards, were of concern to some property owners, according to Minsky.

"They were definitely irked because as the market values went down, they didn't see a drop," in the assessment, he said. Assessments are supposed to represent one-third the market value of a property and are used as the basis for calculating tax bills.

"We thought it would be a very constructive forum to see what the future of assessments will be in the next four years," Minsky said.

The watchdog group arose after assessments increased dramatically in the Prairie Crossing subdivision in Grayslake. Their first white paper found alleged problems in the system that resulted in inaccurate assessments and uneven treatment of similar properties.

Since then, the county's Web site has been improved to include interactive features to assist homeowners with appeals, and a bill awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn's signature would make blue cards easier to interpret.

The second paper examines the appeals process.

"We've come up with a punch list of how we think the process can be more fair and transparent," Minsky said.

The group says those who appeal often feel rushed and humiliated and should be allowed more time at the hearings before the Board of Review.

It also says there should be more than 30 days from receiving the notice to appeal, and that those who hire an appraiser should be reimbursed by the county for that fee if their assessment is reduced.

http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=277605&src=44

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.