Rebecca M. Tonigan
The Township Assessor, Rebecca Tonigan, provides the staff and direction to assess all Township properties. The property assessment is the basis from which all local taxing bodies receive funds from their yearly levies. The Assessor is your liaison to the Chief County Assessment office of Lake County. This office provides professional help on your real estate assessment and related items.
The assessment process of the Property Tax System, whose central theme, taken directly from the state constitution, is “equal treatment”, has been compromised. And “fairness”, the principle that should take precedence over all else, is the casualty. Inequities have become pervasive and the cause is systemic. The appeal process – a vital safeguard for the taxpayer to ensure fair and equitable assessments – is now creating inequities, not curing them. And the final result is an unfair shifting of the tax burden from those who appeal to those who do not.
There is a crisis in the assessment process in Lake County that should not be ignored and the central cause is a double standard. The standard being used to determine the accuracy of an individual assessment at the Board of Review level is not the same as the state mandated standard that Assessors are required to use to determine the original assessment. While Assessors must determine market value from the sales occurring in the three years prior to the assessment date (35 ILCS 200/1-55), the Board of Review, by their own rules, determines market value from the sales closest to the assessment date. In other words, the Board of Review is “correcting” assessments to the current market, while the Assessor is not assessing to the current market. This double standard has become a decided advantage to those filing appeals with the Board of Review. Taxpayers who file an appeal are receiving reductions in their assessments that those who do not file are not getting.
Because assessments distribute the tax burden, the number one concern and responsibility of township assessors is uniformity; uniform assessments distribute the tax burden in a fair and equitable manner. But Board of Review decisions, which do not consider the impact to overall uniformity and other taxpayers, are now having the effect of giving a “tax advantage” to the taxpayer who successfully appeals, at the expense of those who do not. The inequities created by Board of Review decisions have now produced many situations, throughout Lake County, of homeowners in the same subdivision with very similar properties paying vastly different tax bills.
And, as this “tax advantage” has become more apparent to taxpayers, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of appeals filed. Since 2006 the number of complaints filed with the Board of Review has increased by over 700%. In 2006, there were 3,600 complaints, representing 1.4 % of the parcels in the county. In 2011 that number had increased to 25,500 complaints or nearly 10% of parcels. Of that 10%, most will receive an assessment reduction. But it will be at the expense of the 90% who didn’t file. The 90% will see an unfair increase in their tax bills as the tax burden is shifted from the “complainers” to the “non-complainers”.
The workload for both the Board of Review and the Assessors is already staggering and there is no reason to expect it to get better in the near future if the double standard persists. For that reason the Chief County Assessment Officer of Lake County, Martin Paulson, in conjunction with Senator Terry Link, is proposing that Assessors in Lake County be required to turn over their assessments to the Chief County Assessment Officer by July 15th, rather than the current deadline of October 15th (SB 408 SAM 1). He argues that “this change is in the best interest of the taxpayers in Lake County, along with providing a better timetable for our Board of Review.” The fact that this change may greatly shorten the timetable of the Assessors – those individuals charged with the responsibility of determining the assessments to begin with – is not even considered.
We would argue strongly that this measure will not improve assessment quality; it will only expedite the work flow for the Board of Review – at the expense of the Assessors. Sadly, it does not address the core problem, which is the different standards being used to determine assessments (the Assessor) and then review them (the Board of Review). As long as this double standard exists, the unfair shifting of the tax burden will continue and more and more taxpayers will realize that some are getting relief at the expense of the rest. The current system is actually encouraging taxpayers to file an appeal.
Uniformity – spreading the tax burden as fairly as possible – should be the primary goal of everyone involved in the property tax system, and this should be the goal of any legislative change.