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D86 Board Holds Special Meeting To Discuss Property Tax Assessment Disputes

Downers Grove Township Assessor Theresa Cockrell was invited by the board to offer her insights on the assessment appeals process.

Should intervene in property tax assessment cases?

If the district does intervene, should it only do so in cases involving commercial or industrial properties and not residential?

At which step in the property tax assessment process should the district intervene?

These were some of the questions on the minds of District 86 School Board members at a special meeting Monday night with Downers Grove Township Assessor Theresa Cockrell.

Cockrell had attended a July board meeting which included that come before the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board (PTAB). The board decided to invite Cockrell back for a special meeting in 's Little Theatre.

Two members of the board—Dianne Barrett and Dr. Richard Skoda—have questioned the amount of money the district is paying attorneys to intervene in the assessment disputes. At Monday night’s meeting, Skoda put the figure at close to $40,000.

He cited a case example, provided by Cockrell, of a homeowner with an original assessed property valuation of $511,000 who requested a reduction to $330,000. The district fought the assessment reduction and the PTAB eventually decided on a valuation of $365,000.

“How do you justify spending taxpayer money … fighting in a case like this?” Skoda asked.

Overwhelming caseload

Skoda mentioned another instance in which the district intervened and the PTAB gave the homeowner even more of a reduction than was being sought. The district’s attorney did not attend the PTAB hearing in that case.

“It wouldn’t have mattered whether he appeared or not,” Cockrell said. “I often wonder why I even appear. … Because they’re so short-staffed, or have been in the past, some of their decisions make absolutely no sense.”

Without mentioning either former Gov. Rod Blagojevich or current Gov. Pat Quinn by name, Cockrell noted that the “former governor” cut the PTAB budget in half at the same time it was experiencing a dramatic increase in its workload with the addition of cases from Chicago and Cook County that previously had a separate appeal board.

“It took away literally half their staff,” Cockrell said. “The current governor has just reinstated that staff.”

A letter from district attorney Alan Mullins of the Chicago law firm of Scariano, Himes and Petrarca said that the district intervened in 40 cases in 2008 and 32 of those are still open.

The backlog in cases before the PTAB makes it difficult to determine whether or not the district is gaining or losing revenue from its interventions. Cockrell said the assessments made by her department are upheld in 80 to 90 percent of cases before the PTAB and at the previous step in the review process, the DuPage County Board of Review.

Intervening at the county level

Cockrell noted that Lemont High School District 210 intervenes in property tax assessment disputes at the board of review level. She suggested that District 86 intervene at that level.

“I think it would be wiser to start at the board of review level,” she said. “You could always continue on to the PTAB level with that same case.”

Cockrell suggested that doing so might speed up the dispute resolution process. However, as Bruce Davidson of Hinsdale pointed out during the audience participation portion of the agenda, the district does not lose any revenue when the county board of review agrees to lower an assessed valuation. Instead, the property tax rate increases for everyone so that the district received the levy amount it requested.

On the other hand, if the PTAB lowers an assessed valuation, the district must refund a corresponding percentage of the property tax monies already received from the property owner.

Board members thanked Cockrell for taking the time to meet with them and providing information and answers to their questions about what can be a complicated process. Board President Dennis Brennan said the board would mull over the information and make a decision on how to handle property tax assessment disputes at a future board meeting.

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