Friday, October 06, 2006

An Email to Eric Zorn About Real Estate Tax Assessments

Eyes glaze over, right.

Time for an aspirin already.

Nevertheless, I thought my few readers in Cook County might be interested in governmental deception that has been going on probably as long as I have been watching the local political arena (since 1966 when I ran for McHenry County Treasurer).

Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn managed to obtain a confession of sorts from Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan.

Houlihan was a reform state representative first elected in 1972 when I was. He was Governor Dan Walker’s floor leader. (Spokesman would be a better description, because he had very few troops to lead.)

Zorn was probing whether Governor Rod Blagojevich was given special consideration when his assessment went up hardly at all, while his neighbors’ jumped.

Read his column first and then this email to him:

You have a really large story buried in your assessment piece.

It is in Jim (Houlihan)'s admission of what has been a FACT since at least the late 1980's:
" Houlihan said in an interview Wednesday, in practice, the assessed value is more like 10 percent of the market value."
I have chided reporters for decades about accepting the fiction that assessments are at 16%. I’ve done it in letters and even in letters to the editor.

In the late 1980's, I got all the sales (from Revenue Department printouts) from Wheeling and Palatine Townships and did assessment to sales price studies for both townships. I think I found one home that had been assessed at 16%.

At that time the median average assessment level was 8-9%. It may be higher now; I haven't bothered to check with the Department of Revenue.

So, why would the assessor's office want people to believe their homes were assessed at 16%.

As one whose first job in elective office was McHenry County Treasurer from 1966-70 and who started looking at assessments the second year when I found out how boring the Treasurer's Office was, I have been amazed that the vast majority of Chicago reporters have let the Cook County Assessor's Office get by with what certainly deserves to be called the "BIG LIE" that homes (and small apartment buildings) are assessed at 16% of what they are worth.

What utter nonsense!

Thank you for getting Jim to admit what has been the truth since well before he took office.

Now, I challenge you to do something with it.

Consider my theory about why the BIG LIE has been perpetrated.

If one is adept at junior high school math, any Cook County homeowner can figure out that they are not assessed at 16% of what they could sell their homes for.

But (and, it's a big "BUT"), if my home is not assessed at 16%, I'm underassessed, right?

So, I better not complain, right?

Well, no. That's not right.

State assessment law is based on equity. (And, goodness knows, I am not an attorney.)

But, if you are assessed higher than the (median) average assessment, I argued on the House floor when Maureen Martin was sponsoring the bill to put Cook County under the State Property Tax Appeal Board, you are overassessed and should appeal your home's assessment.

Let's say Houlihan is correct in stating that the average assessment is at 10%. (He may not be, remember. It may be lower.)

Then anyone whose assessment is more than he/she could sell their home for should appeal.

In Cook County, one's appeal is first made to the Board of Review.

If one's assessment is not lowered to whatever than median assessment level is, then one should appeal to the State Property Tax Appeal Board.

And, one does not need an attorney to do either. You can do it yourself.

I could tell how, but I just wanted to get you thinking about the implications of the assessor's office lying to taxpayers for decade upon decade.

Who benefits? (In the past it discouraged appeals, so the appeal agencies won. Now I don't know who wins by perpetuating it.)

Who loses?

Always good questions when one sees stupidity in government.

I still remember showing Harold Washington the numbers for the West Side township (yes, Chicago still has township lines, which are used to divide the city into assessment areas). I can't remember what the "official" assessment level was, but his township was assessed at a higher percentage than any other.

"They did that to us," he exclaimed.

= = = = =

Also at McHenry County Blog today is an account of the altercation between Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Bob Thomas and a columnist he is suing.


PD TO,  11:29 PM  

This is an incredible public service. I hope everyone reads it.

Anonymous,  12:00 PM  

I think you meant that hotty Maureen Murphy not Martin.

Jerry 2:46 PM  

The chicago reader has done an excellent series of stories on how convulted assessments are. They worked out the math that went into Michael Madigan's assessment.

Here's a link to Ben Joravsky's series on Cook County Property taxes. I can't remember exactly which story walks through the assessment process, but they're all good reads:

Anonymous,  7:41 AM  

I'll give you another morsel to chew on. I've been religiously downloading all the Cook County Assessor data for the last five years into my own local database for the purpose of finding 'comps' so I can appeal my own assessment (god help you if you have to use the assessor's web site or the dreaded 'books' to find comps).

Once I wrote a query to find my comps, I fed every other house in the county through it. The query was based on assessed value with houses in your same 'tax neighborhood', configured the same way, with the same type code.

*At least* 20% of the homes in the county have grounds for a solid appeal case. Another 20% probably can make a decent argument they are being overassessed, based on the neighbor's valuation.

All of this is trivial to prove with a local copy of all the assessor data.

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