Lake County stressed by property tax appeals
Updated: June 18, 2012 8:06AM
Regulation could make a good assessment system better.
These are challenging times. Families and local governments are trying to manage stagnant and falling incomes and revenues. Property values are plummeting, but property tax bills are not dropping commensurate with marketplace realities.
Lake County has seen an explosion in property tax appeals, from about 6,000 to 26,000 appeals last year. According to assessment officials, 60 percent of these appeals are being submitted by property tax consultants. A number of these consultants, and even some lawyers, appear to be new to the industry or unqualified.
Lake County has a lot going for it. The Illinois Department of Revenue considers Lake County’s accuracy and assessments uniformity, tested by coefficient of dispersion studies, as a model among Illinois’ 102 counties.
Lake County’s property assessment system is transparent, exemplified by a state-of-the-art public on-line assessment search program. The property assessment search program also provides a limpid look into the assessor’s databank of recorded sales, and even plat of surveys to review square footage accuracy. Lake County’s publicly available resources place homeowners on an equal footing with property tax consultants and lawyers, when gathering evidence to support tax assessment appeals.
By comparison, Cook County has the second largest assessment system and largest number of tax appeals, at 240,000 in the country. Cook County’s on-line assessment search program does not allow the general public to access the assessor’s databank of sales or property plat of surveys.
Law firms who assist taxpayers with appeals might suggest that they should be exclusive service providers. Unfortunately, some attorneys do not have specialized training in property valuations, the most relevant skill-set in appeals industry.
Nationwide, professional assessment organizations have advocated for property owners to have choice on who they select for tax appeal assistance. These choices would include real estate appraisers, brokers, accountants, and professionals experienced with the tax appeal governmental processes.
Where is progress possible that furthers taxpayers’ access to their property tax assessment system that can correct for inequities, while encouraging best practices in assessment appeals?
The Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation oversees hundreds of industries, including appraisers, financial advisors and real estate brokers. All Illinois tax appeal practitioners should be included in their oversight and be given a framework for state qualifications and procedures.
Nationally, tax assessment and appeal practitioners should be members of the International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO). This organization certifies and regulates tax assessment officials and private practitioners, and has made a standing offer to Illinois officials to help them construct statewide regulatory procedures.
Lake County’s elected representatives should initiate legislation regulating property tax consultants. With this reform in place, Lake County can continue to be a model for fair, understandable, and accessible assessment and tax appeal systems – one that invites appeals for legitimate errors while protecting taxpayers as consumers.
Andrea A. Raila, President,
Andrea A. Raila & Associates, Inc.
Illinois Property Tax & Public Policy Consultants