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Our view: Assessment process needs an overhaul

Illinois has so many problems with how it governs and taxes its populace, we couldn’t possibly write about each in the space we have here.

Today, we’ll focus on the assessment process – how governing bodies assess how much your home and property is worth and then determine what your annual property tax will be.

If there’s any evidence that Illinois’ system is flawed for assessing property values and determining how much in taxes are owed, it’s in the growing number of assessment challenges the past few years and the overwhelming success of those challenges.

Supervisor of Assessments Robert Ross told the Northwest Herald for a story published last week that he estimates that more than 10,000 county property owners have filed appeals this year. That’s up from the 8,893 appeals filed the past year. And the past year’s number was a 51 percent increase over the 5,885 appeals in 2010, which was 40 percent higher than 2009, according to senior reporter Kevin Craver’s story. And homeowners are winning the overwhelming number of appeals being filed.

The year-over-year increases in appeals is a statewide trend, and has been ongoing since the housing bubble burst and homeowners started seeing steady declines in the value of their homes.

Despite the drastic decline in property values, property taxes have continued to steadily increase.

Among the problems with Illinois’ flawed system is that townships – of which there are 17 in McHenry County – are responsible for assessing properties within their boundaries. Each of the townships’ 17 assessors have their own procedures, creating an uneven system for determining who pays what.

There should be a single, countywide assessment office with a team of assessors who all are working from the same playbook. This should lead to a declining number of costly and time-consuming appeals.

Another problem with the system is the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law, or tax cap. PTELL largely is the reason your property taxes continue to rise as your home values decline. It allows taxing bodies such as school districts and municipalities to seek more in property tax revenue each year, despite the poor economy and falling home values.

State Rep. Jack Franks sought to fix PTELL with legislation that would keep tax levies flat when property values decline, but that bill failed to pass, in part because school districts and other taxing bodies lobbied against it.

Fixing Illinois’ faulty property tax and assessment system might not be priority No. 1 for state lawmakers in 2013 – that distinction goes to public pension reform – but it has to be close to the top.

Taxpayers deserve it.

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