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Tax changes spark spike in appeals from residents

Thursday, June 17, 2010
Pioneer Press
by Karen Berkowitz

Thousands of suburban homeowners are appealing the higher "market values" that were placed on their homes when Cook County changed its assessment system, arguing the values couldn't have jumped so dramatically during a market downturn.

More than 4,698 appeals were filed with the Board of Review from Niles Township, for example, up 202 percent from three years ago. Those appeals represented more than 9,521 parcels. Maine Township recorded 4,508 appeals, up 169 percent from three years ago, on 11,439 parcels.

Suburbanites are contributing to an avalanche of tax appeals in a year when a full-blown reassessment in the city of Chicago also is sparking a high volume of appeals.

Until the books are closed on the appeals, other steps of the tax-cycle cannot begin.

Some Cook County officials have been warning of a possible four-month delay in mailing the second installment property tax bills, which may not be due until Jan. 1, 2011 or later.

Meanwhile, many suburban school officials say they'll need to take out short-term loans this fall if those predictions come to pass.

Ironically, suburban homeowners received notice of assessment reductions ranging from 4 to 15 percent in the first-ever downward adjustment spurred by declining values. But while assessments dropped, the assessor racheted up the "market value" on the home to create a 10-percent ratio between the assessment and market value, as required under a new county ordinance. In a normal year of appreciating home values, the changes might have gone unnoticed because the 10-percent ratio had long been the assessor's practice.

With actual sales prices tumbling on homes and condominiums as the result of foreclosures and short sales, tax attorneys and homeowners have had an easier time proving the new market values are too high.

"The artificial increases in fair market value across the county are unquestionably driving the volume (of appeals)," said Scott Guetzow, chief deputy commissioner of the Board of Review, noting appeals have been "through the roof" in townships that ordinarily wouldn't generate many in an off-year.

He said that in many cases, the market values assigned by the Cook County Assessor using a simple math formula have been higher than what homes have actually sold for in the depressed real estate market.

"It may have worked in a lot of years, but this year, it overshot the market on a lot of houses," said Guetzow.

While the Board of Review typically takes on appeals one township at a time, the board is simultaneously accepting and considering appeals for 11 suburban and four city townships this month to hasten the process. The board says the unfinished townships usually account for the majority of the board's work.

The new assessment ratios, known as the 10/25 ordinance, simplified the tax system, reducing 22 classes of property down to just two: Residential and commercial. Residential property is now assessed at 10 percent of market, and commercial property at 25 percent.

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