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Officials ask residents to appeal assessments

Thursday, August 12, 2004
Pioneer Press
by NICK KATZ

County and township officials are encouraging residents to appeal their property tax assessments this year if there are errors in the description of the home or it is assessed higher than other similar homes in the neighborhood.

That comes in the face of an assessment increase that is expected to average about 40 percent. Assessment notices, reflecting the triennial reassessment in Niles Township, have been delayed, but should arrive some time this month.

Last week, at the first of a series of meetings to help homeowners learn what they need to know to file an appeal, officials reviewed the appeals process and provided information on an assessment cap approved by the Illinois General Assembly this year.

"I'm encouraging you to appeal. You're going to help us get a more uniform assessment process," said 13th District Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin. "The assessor is after fundamental fairness."

Suffredin was scheduled to speak in Lincolnwood Tuesday and was among several speakers at a similar Aug. 4 meeting held in Morton Grove. Others at the event included State Sen. Ira Silverstein, State Rep. Louis Lang, Niles Township Assessor Scott Bagnall and Dana Marberry, community relations manager for the Cook County Assessor's office.

Suffredin said notices of new assessments were supposed to have been sent out July 23, prior to last week's meeting, but have been delayed because of "printing issues" and the need to include information on the new assessment cap.

But he said that as the result of rising property values the median increase is expected to be about 40 percent. That figure could be higher or lower for individual homeowners.

Suffredin noted, however, that the assessment determines how taxes will be spread out among the properties, but not how much they will actually go up. That is determined by the levies set by individual taxing bodies such as villages, park districts and schools.

"It does not mean you will have a 40 percent increase in your property tax bill," he said.

Equalizer drop

The increase in assessment, Suffredin said, should mean a drop in the equalizer, applied to all property to bring it up to the legally required assessment level.

"Hopefully that number will be coming down as we get a more realistic picture of property values in this township," he said.

Suffredin like other speakers at the meeting recommended that homeowners look at the assessment notice they receive to be sure the information on their property, such as size and number of bathrooms, is correct.

Beyond that they should see how their assessment compares with similar homes in the neighborhood to make sure their assessment is comparable.

Suffredin said that can be accomplished through the Cook County Assessor's web site, which has information and a photograph of every property in the county.

Suffredin said his office can help with the process, showing people what to do and provide computer access if they need it.

"We are ombudsmen to be sure you are getting all the benefits of the law," he said. "We will help you put together the process of appeals. Our whole goal here is that everybody gets a fair assessment."

Bagnall said that while the increase in assessment - 53 percent over six years - may seem high, "some home prices have doubled in one year."

But he noted that the assessment is not based only on the actual value of a house, but is intended to insure that similar properties in an area are assessed equally.

Also, he said, while officials are encouraging residents to file appeals there should be some basis, such as an error in the property description or an assessment different from similar homes.

"Nobody's going to say don't appeal," Bagnall said. "On the other hand have some basis for the appeal," he said.

Bagnall said his office also can offer assistance to taxpayers who want to file an appeal.

Lang discussed the cap approved last session, noting that it is a temporary measure to give the legislature time to find an alternative to property taxes for funding schools.

"We all have a problem with the way property is assessed and the way property taxes are paid," Lang said. "For those of you who say this isn't right, we agree."

In the meantime, though, Lang said the legislature wanted to offer some kind of relief to homeowners who are facing hugely increasing assessments and tax bills.

"When you get your assessments, you will get sticker shock. We wanted to do something to soften the blow of huge increases in the value of property."

The law, he said, will cap the increase in assessment to 7 percent a year, or 21 percent over the three-year life of the measure. The law, he said, will prevent homeowners from being hit with a 40 percent increase in one year.

"Taxes will probably be higher, but substantially lower than without the cap," Lang said.

"Something is going to happen because this can't go on," Suffredin said. "This is at least some relief and gives us three years to come up with something."

Marberry said the cap will affect taxes that are collected in the fall of 2005.

For assistance taxpayers can call Suffredin office at 864-1209, the Cook County Assessor's office at 312-443-7550, or Bagnall's office at 673-9300.



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