Property assessment hikes stun residents across McHenry County

Some property owners experience increases of up to 342%

Steinar Andersen, a disabled veteran living in Huntley, said during Monday’s Grafton Township Board meeting that he was “absolutely mortified” upon seeing a 106% increase to his 2019 property assessment from last year.

For the valuation of his two-story home – which was built in 1903 and sits on Mill Street, a road heavily traveled by semitrailers coming out of the Dean Foods transportation facility – to jump from about $22,500 to around $46,000 in one year, means Grafton Township Assessor Alan Zielinski could not have been doing his job properly, Andersen said.

“If I could sell it for what [Zielinski] valued it for, I’d be out of here,” Andersen said during the meeting.

But Andersen is not alone. Numerous McHenry County homeowners experienced between 60% and 100% assessment hikes – with some as high as 342% – and may be susceptible to a hefty property tax increase depending on whether an appeal is filed.

This year, townships must perform a quadrennial assessment, during which assessors revalue all property within the township.

McHenry County Chief Assessment Officer Bob Ross said each quadrennial assessment presents different scenarios for property values, where assessments need to be based on factors such as the type of property and where the property is located.

“There’s no standard of what happens in a quadrennial,” Ross said.

Stephanie Henry of Dunham Township said she saw a 67% increase in value despite not doing any work on her home. And her neighbors located behind her property saw a 131% increase.  

Ross attributed assessment increases in part to the strength of the market for homes valued between $100,000 and $250,000 in McHenry County. However, it’s up to township assessors and what criteria they use to assess property.

“Township assessors have broad discretion to make assessments,” Ross said.

In Grafton Township, some assessments exceeded a 100% increase. In one instance, the assessed value of a residential property on Adamson Road in Huntley increased by 342%.

Zielinski said one change during this quadrennial assessment is the assessor’s office’s use of a more powerful statistical program that factors in certain variables that weren’t used before.

“The bad news is that you are seeing some increases because of things that were not assessed,” Zielinski said.

One complaint Zielinski heard was about the assessor’s office’s inclusion of a basement in the assessment of one property. However, the homeowner said the basement had been filled in after the home was bought, so once the deputy assessor examined it, the basement was changed to a crawl space in the records.

“Unless people tell us what’s going on, we have to go with the records in our system,” Zielinski said.

Zielinski said properties can be one of several designations that may affect value: legal conforming, legal nonconforming and nonconforming.

In Andersen’s case, Zielinski said he heard from Huntley village staff that the property was nonconforming, meaning it does not conform to current zoning requirements and didn’t conform to the zoning requirements in effect at the time of construction.

However, staff also had advised Zielinski that the lot is designated as residential, meaning the home can be rebuilt. Because it has a residential designation, Zielinski said Andersen’s parcel has to be treated the same as every residential parcel in the neighborhood.

The Grafton Township Assessor’s Office also uses five designations for lots: external minus, external, standard, superior and superior plus. Superior plus plots signify ideal locations and are indicative of greater value.

Despite Andersen’s home’s nonconforming status and its location along a busy road – which Andersen said saw between 150 and 250 Dean Foods trucks a day when the plant still was open – the parcel was designated as standard.

Zielinski’s lakefront address on Turnberry Trail in Lakewood, which sits across the street from the Turnberry Golf Club, also is designated as standard.

Zielinski said some of the factors lowering the value of his parcel are its location on Turnberry Trail, which the assessor’s office classifies as a major thoroughfare, and its location near a water tower.

If a homeowner’s property value has increased, it does not necessarily mean that they could see a higher tax bill. Factors such as the number of exemptions and the tax rates established by the various governing bodies the property resides in can reduce the amount of taxes a homeowner pays.

The deadline to appeal has passed in the majority of area townships. Only four townships still have an opportunity to appeal.

Alden Township residents have until Dec. 2 to appeal, Riley Township residents have until Dec. 4, Algonquin Township residents have until Dec. 6, and Grafton Township residents have until Dec. 12.

Assessment data is limited for certain township websites, but full assessment rolls for each township from 2017 to 2019 are available on the McHenry County website.

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