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Assessment appeals set record

WOODSTOCK – Early numbers show yet another record year for people appealing the assessments by which their 2013 property taxes will be calculated.

Supervisor of Assessments Robert Ross said he estimates that more than 10,000 county property owners filed appeals, up from 8,893 appeals for the taxes paid earlier this year.

At least 9,253 appeals were on the docket as of Monday, a week after the appeals deadline passed for the last of the county’s 17 townships to publish assessments, Ross said.

Appeals have been climbing steadily in recent years as residents discover that their property-tax bills have stayed the same or increased despite plummeting home values.

The 8,893 appeals last year were up 51 percent from the 5,885 appeals in 2010. And 2010 was 40 percent more than in 2009. By comparison, the county assessor’s office fielded only 677 appeals a decade ago.

Ross said in September – when the Board of Review started hearing the first filed appeals – that he hoped this year would not be another record breaker. But after years of climbing appeals, Ross said he hopes the number will level off in future years as home values stabilize.

“We’re hoping they get into line with both equity and market value,” Ross said.

Each appeal must go before a county Board of Review that decides whether to lower the assessment and by how much. The board has been holding hearings since September for the first townships that published assessments.

Property owners have 30 days from the publish date to file an appeal. Richmond Township was the first to publish in July, and Grafton Township was the last. It published last month, and the appeal deadline expired last week.

Tax bills cannot go out until every last property in the county is calculated and the Board of Review’s work is certified by the county clerk and then the Illinois Department of Revenue, Ross said. He said he hopes to have the calculations sent to the clerk by late February or early March.

“We’ve been trying to get townships to publish sooner, just so we can get a better handle on things,” Ross said.

However, if the county’s overall assessed value decreased by more than 1.5 percent, the state will slap a countywide multiplier on property owners, increasing their assessments to attain parity regardless of whether owners appealed or did anything to their properties. The revenue department issued a 1.7 percent multiplier on 2012’s tax bills. The 2011 multiplier of 3.48 percent was the first the state imposed on McHenry County since 1983.

The county’s taxing bodies under the tax cap can collect 3 percent more in 2013 than they did this year. While some governments, such as the McHenry County Board, chose to hold their levies flat and reject the increase, others, such as McHenry County College, are seeking to collect the full 3 percent.

The tax cap law, created to protect suburban taxpayers from out-of-control tax increases by limiting them to the rate of inflation, now protects governments and hurts taxpayers with the bursting of the housing bubble. When home values decline, a scenario that state lawmakers never envisioned, the tax cap ensures that governments can receive an increase for inflation if they choose to take it.

Outrage last year over increased tax bills prompted state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, to try to pass a bill forbidding governments under the tax cap from collecting more in property taxes in years that their total assessments decrease. The bill, which faces significant resistance from government lobbying groups, passed the House but stalled in the Senate. Franks said he will try to get the bill voted on during the January lame-duck session, but is prepared to refile it when the new General Assembly is sworn in Jan. 9.

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