A message from the Cuba Township Assessor
REBECCA M. TONIGAN
Fairness – it’s what we all want. How often as your Assessor have I heard, “I don’t mind paying my fair share…” and it’s true! We understand that our local services cost money. We know that we have to pay for them. But we want the process to be fair.
This demand for “uniformity” is a recurring principle of our society and an integral part of the democratic dream. In 1818 Illinois was the first state to specifically require “uniform and equal taxation” of property in the State Constitution. By 1845, statutory law, including Illinois tax law, agreed with and expanded on the constitutional requirement of “uniformity” and since then, case law has repeatedly upheld it. Today the concept of “uniformity” or “equal treatment” takes precedence and is the central theme of our property tax system. Layers of protection are built into the property tax system to ensure “fairness”, “equal treatment” and “uniformity”.
So, it follows that the primary function of the assessment process is to fairly distribute the collective tax burden created by our local taxing bodies. Assessments perform a distribution function, not a taxing function. And the job of the Assessor is to value all property at one third of market value and to do so in a uniform and equitable manner. Yet, while assessments are determined by local assessors, they are subject to revision and review by the Chief County Assessment Officer, the Lake County Board of Review and ultimately the Illinois Department of Revenue.
The Illinois Property Tax Code requires that all taxable real property be assessed at 33.33% of “fair cash” value. To accomplish this Assessors use sales transactions from the three years prior to the assessment date (January 1st of each year) to determine property values for the entire township, a methodology mandated by state statute. Both the county and the state use the same methodology to monitor and adjust township and county assessments so that values throughout the county and state are uniform; a process called equalization. During equalization a uniform percentage increase or decrease is applied to all assessments in the target area - neighborhood, township or county - to bring assessment levels, on average, to a uniform level. At any point in the assessment process, if the overall level of assessment is not 33.33%, an equalization factor may be applied. The Township Assessor can equalize within the township, the Chief County Assessment Officer and Board of Review can equalize between townships and the Illinois Department of Revenue equalizes between counties. Any one of these authorities, by statute, can “equalize” assessments up or down and all are responsible for making sure that property assessments are uniform and at 33.33% of market value. Equalization ensures that the correct level of assessment is maintained and that, from neighborhood to neighborhood, township to township and county to county, everyone pays “their fair share” based upon the value of their property.
This year, after equalization by the Township Assessors and the Chief County Assessment Officer, Lake County’s tentative state equalization factor was 1.0 – in other words, no factor. However, the assessment cycle was not complete. The Lake County Board of Review, the official government entity before which property owners may file an appeal contesting their assessed value, had not finished their work. Even though Assessors are required by law to use sales data from the three years prior to the assessment date to compute individual assessments, the Lake County Board of Review is able to consider current data, if applicable. According to the 2009 Board rules “it is preferable to select the best three comparables which have closed as close as possible to the lien date, January 1, 2009, as possible” in a market value argument. In the current declining market, this policy was generally beneficial to those property owners who took advantage of the appeal process. When changes at the Board of Review level were complete, the County’s total assessed value achieved .0009 over 33.33% as mandated in the Property Tax Code. This figure is just under the allowable amount for the Department of Revenue to apply a State Multiplier.
For the first time since 1992, we almost had a “State Equalization” factor other than 1.0 on our property tax bills this May from the Illinois Department of Revenue. This would have resulted in an increase in all property assessments for Lake County. The Cuba Township Assessor’s office is happy to report that because of due diligence on the part of our staff with regards to fair & equitable assessments and the appeal process we were able to keep our assessment level at 33.33%. We will again this year look to make changes in the level of assessments based on the 3 year sales data for 2007-2009.
Fairness – it’s what we all want.