Early start for county assessors

Record appeals spur effort

WOODSTOCK – It’s something of a drag to have to start the process of appealing next year’s property-tax bill when you’re not even done paying this year’s bill.

But assessments for the county’s 17 townships are going to be published several months earlier this year, given the ever-increasing number of frustrated property owners who are appealing them.

Assessments for Richmond Township, typically the first to be finished, likely will be published the first week of June, McHenry County Supervisor of Assessments Robert Ross said. Richmond Township last year published in late July.

“This gives us more time and more opportunity to get our work done in light of the number of appeals and review requests,” Ross said.

Greenwood Township’s assessments also are done and likely will publish the second week in June; they published last year in late August.

The county last year fielded almost 10,000 assessment appeals for this year’s tax bills. Property owners have broken consecutive records as property-tax bills have stayed the same or increased despite the fact that home values have plummeted.

By comparison a decade ago, the county received only 677 appeals.

Homeowners have 30 days from the date of publication to appeal their assessments, each of which is heard by a board of review. Tax bills cannot be mailed out until every hearing is finished and all parcels in the county have their assessments set.

Last year, the two largest townships by population, Algonquin and Grafton, did not publish until the end of October and mid-November, respectively. Those two townships make up almost half of the appeals that Ross’ office has to process in any given year, which resulted in a last-minute deluge, he said.

A new state law that took effect this year gives county assessors a stick to move things along if needed. Should a township assessor miss the Oct. 15 deadline to turn in the assessments, the county assessor now has the option to seize the books and finish the job.

Ross said he does not anticipate having to use that tool. Twelve of the county’s 17 townships hit the deadline last year.

“I think everyone – the township assessors, the Board of Review and our office – realize our need to step this up rather than face a time crunch,” Ross said.

Assessments, or one-third of a property’s value, determine a property owner’s share of county, municipal, school, township and other taxing districts’ extensions for property-tax bills due the next year.

The ironic main culprit for tax bills rising while property values fall is the tax cap law enacted more than 20 years ago to protect homeowners in the Chicago suburbs from out-of-control property-tax increases.

State lawmakers in 1991 enacted the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law on the collar counties, which limits the increase that taxing bodies can receive over the previous year to either 5 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.

But the tax cap became governments’ friend and taxpayers’ foe with the bursting of the housing bubble. When home values decline – a possibility state lawmakers never envisioned – the tax cap ensures governments receive the inflationary rate of increase if they so choose.

While several governments intentionally kept their levies for this year’s bills flat and spurned the inflationary increase, others raised their levies to ensure that they captured the extra 3 percent.

The rate of inflation taxing bodies will be able to use for next year’s bills is 1.7 percent, according to the Illinois Department of Revenue.

Efforts have been made in recent years in the General Assembly by state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, to forbid taxing bodies from collecting an increase except by referendum if their total assessed values fall. His latest attempt failed in the House last month on a 43-65 vote.

Lobbying groups representing local taxing bodies, which pay their dues with taxpayer dollars, have fought the bill every time it has been tried.

A number of bills have been filed in this session aimed at freezing what taxing bodies can levy for the next three to five years. All of them are languishing in committee and are not expected to advance.

Because assessments determine a property owner’s share of what taxing bodies receive, getting it lowered does not guarantee that the owner’s bill will decrease as well.

Also, as successful appeals increase, so do the odds of the state slapping a multiplier on tax bills countywide. The state multiplier on this year’s tax bills is 2.43 percent, meaning that everyone’s assessments increased by that much regardless of what they did or did not do to their properties.

What it means

Townships have begun the annual process of publishing property-tax assessments for 2013 that will be used to calculate next year’s property-tax bills.

The process is starting months earlier than in previous years to help deal with the ever-increasing number of homeowners who are appealing their assessments.

Assessments for Richmond and Greenwood townships are anticipated to be published in early June. Homeowners have 30 days from the day assessments are printed in a newspaper of record to file an appeal.

This year’s bills

The deadlines to pay the two installments of this year’s property-tax bills are June 5 and Sept. 5.

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