High property tax bills? Appeal assessments
Process may seem unpleasant, but homeowners can save
For some, appealing property taxes can seem about as unpleasant as cleaning a house, helping someonemove or some other onerous chore.
Appealing taxes may seem dreadful, but it could save homeowners a lot of money. It’s something that should be done not once but with regularity, like having the oil changed in a vehi-cle.“Mytaxeswentdown$1,000 this year,” Marva Campbell
Pruitt, village clerk of SaukVillage, told me Thursday night at a property tax appeal forum at the Sauk VillageMunicipal Center. Campbell-Pruitt attributed the savings to the fact she appealed her taxes last year. Her annual tax bill is still more than $10,000, she said, and she plans to appeal again.
About a dozen people attended
the forum. Itwas a small turnout, considering the importance of the subject matter. Homeowners who appeal their property taxes could potentially save hundreds or thousands of dollars a year.
“I really wish this room was full,” Campbell-Pruitt said. “This is not just a Sauk Village event. This is for all of Bloom Township.” This is the second year in a row that representatives involved in the appeals process have met with Bloom Township residents to try to help them save money on their property taxes. “I’m sure you’re not the only ones in the south suburbs who are having issues with their property taxes being too high,” said Dana Pointer, director of community outreach for Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Larry R. Rogers Jr., one of three elected members of the board. Pointerwalked through the appeals process, which is more simple and painless than some may realize. It starts when homeowners are mailed their tax bills twice a year. The first installment in Cook County is always due the first business day inMarch. The second installment is typically due in late summer. This year, the due datewas Aug. 1. “You should always check your tax bills,” Pointer said. They contain information about where your property tax dollars go: What amounts are spent to fund schools, police and fire protection, libraries, parks and other services. Tax bills also tell homeowners the assessed value of their property. If the proposed value is greater than a homeowner thinks it should be, it’s probablyworth considering an appeal. “If the assessor is assessing you at $150,000 and you only paid $100,000, that’s a discrepancy. That’s somethingwe could look at,” Pointer said. Exemptions offer other opportunities for savings. Most people qualify for the homeowner’s exemption because their home is their primary residence, as opposed to an income-generating rental property. Senior citizens qualify for another exemption. Veterans,
people with disabilities and people whose homeswere damaged by fire are among others who might qualify for additional exemptions.
Homeowners should always check their tax bills to make sure they are receiving exemptions to which they are entitled, Pointer said. She said she recently helped a homeowner in his 80s with an appeal. For many years, he had not taken the homeowner and senior citizen exemptions, she said. He missed out on significant savings.
Many homeowners may not think to check their tax bills because they pay money into an escrowaccount as part of their monthly mortgage payments. Unless they’re notified about an increase in their monthly payment amount, they may pay little attention to their assessment.
“Our mortgage payments jumped up $500 a month,” residentDwayne Marshall told me at the forum. “We’ve got to do something before we end up having to live in a cardboard box.”
Awoman who asked that her name not be published showedme her tax bill. The market value of her propertywas set at $83,260 for 2017, the bill showed. The assessment level is 10 percent of the market value, or $8,326. Thatwas a big jump from her 2016 assessment level of $6,230.
“Iwas really shocked when I saw it,” she said. “My taxeswent up over $100 a month.”
An appeal may lower a home’s assessed value, Pointer said, but that’s only one of several factors that affect property taxes. The Board of Review and assessor cannot do anything about tax rates charged by school districts and other taxing bodies, she said.
“The tax rate in the city of Chicago is 7.26 percent,” she said. “When you come out to the south suburbs it’s much higher. In Ford Heights, it’s 33.9 percent. There aren’t asmany commercial or industrial properties to take up that burden.”
The 2017 average composite rate of 33.9 percent in FordHeights declined 11.1 percent fromthe 2016 rate of 38.2 percent, according to an annual report by Cook County Clerk David Orr.
In Tinley Park, the rate dropped nearly 10 percent in 2017 to 12.2 percent from13.6 percent in 2016. In Homewood, the rate fell 7.6 percent to 16.1 percent. Blue Island’s rate plunged 9 percent to 14.9 percent.
Some school districts in lowerincome areas are lowering their local tax rates because they’re getting additional state funding, thanks to recent legislation intended to address inequity in school funding.
Many south suburban homeowners may see a reduction in their assessments this year. That’s because the Cook County assessor’s office is using a new method to determine property values.
“We rolled out this new system,” Pointer said. “It’s beenwell-received. It’s more transparent.”
The changeswere made after investigations by the Chicago Tribune and others found the Cook County assessor’s office tended to overestimate the value of singlefamily homes in poor orworkingclass neighborhoods while underestimating the value of homes in wealthier areas, the Tribune reported.
The system is nowbetter at determining accurate home values in part because it makes better comparisons between homes with similar characteristics within neighborhoods, the Tribune reported, citing tax policy experts.
Residential property taxes remain oppressive for many south suburban residents. Additional state funding for schools and the new assessment method are helping address the problem.
Still, it’s a good idea for individual homeowners to check their tax bills and assessed valuations. Proposed market values should be consistent with homes of similar size and characteristics within a community. Additional information about exemptions and other potential savings is readily available online and at township assessor offices.
Personnel fromvarious offices are available to explain the appeals process to people and help them gather and file necessary paperwork. Forums like the one Thursday in Sauk Village are commonly held when the appeals process is open for a particular township.
“I’m hopingwe all will get a nice tax break,” Campbell-Pruitt said.
Dana Pointer, director of community outreach for Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Larry R. Rogers Jr., explains the property tax appeals process during a forum Thursday at the Sauk Village Municipal Center.