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Property Tax Workshops Help Homeowners Appeal Assessments

Wednesday, April 03, 2019
Evanston RoundTable
by Heidi Randhava and Mary Helt Gavin

Most everyone knew it was coming, but few were prepared for the increases in their property tax assessments until they received the Assessor’s letter. The increases in property assessments spurred hundreds of residents to a property tax workshop at the Morton Civic Center last month.

Some hoped to learn how to appeal the new assessments of their property, which had come in the mail only a few days before. Others simply came to glean a bit more information about the process.

Because of the overflow, a second session was offered. Some residents chose to leave, however, and staff from Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin’s offered each the necessary forms to complete the first step in appealing their new assessments.

Those who found a place to sit or stand received those same forms and heard a presentation on assessments and appeals.

Appeals are due in the Cook County Assessor’s office by April 15.

Mr. Suffredin hosted the event, which he presented together with Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi, several State legislators and the City of Evanston.

Noting the overflow crowd he said, “I’m sorry we underestimated the interest.”

Appealing the Assessment

“My mantra is, ‘You need to appeal twice a year.’ We need to appeal to get to the fair market value of your house,” Mr. Suffredin said.

Property assessments are conducted yearly in some part of Cook County – roughly a third each year. So every three years, each property owner receives a new assessment – called the triennial assessment. A formula involving the assessed valuation, the equalizing factor and the tax rate is used to determine the property tax.

Several institutions take a bite out of the property tax revenue pie. In Evanston, the two public school districts together take about 68%; the City of Evanston, about 20%. Other taxing bodies that share the revenue include Cook County, Oakton Community College and the North Shore Mosquito Abatement District.

Taxes are collected twice a year, and the bill in any given year is for the previous year. The first – or spring – installment is based on the prior year’s tax bill and is generally a little more than half of the total taxes paid on that property in that (prior) year. As an example, the tax bill that residents will soon be paying is the first installment of the taxes for 2018. The amount will likely represent 55-60% of the total amount paid last year on the property for their 2017 taxes.

The second instalment is based on the actual taxes due in any year. That bill, which has not yet been issued, was the focus of the workshop.

“The appeal process is for tax bills to be paid in August 2020,” Mr. Suffredin said.

Referring to Mr. Kaegi, Mr. Suffredin said, “Last November we elected a new assessor. He ran on a platform to make sure that we have fair across-the-board assessments.

“North suburban residents appeal in the greatest numbers. In Evanston, the farther east you go, the more appeals. They [the assessor’s office] feel they are using the best available data and tools.”

Residents can appeal only the assessed value of the property – not the tax liability, the tax rate, the equalizer or the amount of exemption.

There are two ways to appeal an assessment: appealing to the Cook County Assessor within the 30-day window or appealing to the Board of Review.

The Assessor, who sets the taxable value on real estate, is the first place homeowners can appeal. The scope of evidence is limited, and no hearing is involved. Appeals to the assessor can be made online at cookcountyassessor.com.

The Board of Review, a three-member panel, is the second body to which a property owner can address an appeal. The Board of Review allows a greater scope of evidence and allows the property owner to attend a hearing. The Board of Review website is cookcountyboardofreview.com.

Most appeals are based on “lack of uniformity,” Mr. Suffredin said. According to the Board of Review’s website, a property owner can file an appeal on the grounds of lack of uniformity “if the value of your property is assessed higher per square foot than other similar properties. …”

Dividing the total building assessment by the square footage of the building will determine the assessment per square foot. The Board of Review website advises residents to “compare your property to properties located in the same neighborhood and within the same classification code. Also, the best comparable properties are those that are most similar to yours based on age, construction style, etc.”

Exemptions

Certain exemptions are available to homeowners; exemptions reduce the assessed value before the tax rate is applied. Some exemptions depend on the age of the homeowner, some on income and some on disability. In most cases, the property owner must have lived in the home for a certain period of time, have used the home as the principal residence and have assumed the legal responsibility for paying the property taxes.

Cook County senior citizens who own their home and use it as the primary residence, regardless of income, may apply for an exemption based solely on their age. Senior citizens must apply for it each year. Mr. Suffredin said, “We’re working on legislation that will automatically keep seniors on file, since none of us get younger each year.”

A second senior exemption – a freeze – is available to senior citizens over 65 years of age with an income of less than $65,000 per year, again if the property is their primary residence. Other exemptions are available for returning veterans and disabled veterans.

Tax Bills

The map above shows the median increase in assessed property value in Evanston, by area, after this latest triennial assessment.

A reassessment or a change in a property owner’s Equalized Assessed Valuation does not increase the total amount of taxes levied by the taxing bodies, but it will generally either increase or decrease a property owner’s proportionate share of those taxes.

As an example, in December 2018, City Council approved a property tax levy of $31,539,995, up from $30,101,220, or about 5%, the previous year. This amount is not increased or decreased by a change in the assessed value of property in the City. But a property tax owner’s proportionate share of those taxes may go up or down in light of changes in the assessed value of property in the City. A property owner’s proportionate share of the City’s taxes is, in general terms, determined by dividing the property owner’s assessed value by the total assessed value of all property in the City, after taking into account various exemptions.

A similar exercise is followed for the School Districts and the other taxing bodies. The impact of the new assessments will be reflected in the property tax bills mailed in just over a year – the bills for 2019 taxes.



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