Residents urged to file exemptions, appeals
by KEVIN GROSS
Officials are advising Northwest Side residents to file for property tax exemptions and appeal assessments as some aldermen report widespread complaints from residents related to their property taxes.
"There’s not been one specific area (inquiring about property tax issues), as paying the property tax affects all of the 39th," Alderman Samantha Nugent (39th) said. "It’s a universal issue and there’s no one specific area, it’s been affecting people all across the ward."
Property tax bills are based on tax rates based on levies from local taxing bodies, a property’s equalized assessed value, the exemptions a taxpayer receives, and the state’s equalization factor or "multiplier" – currently set by the Illinois Department of Revenue at 2.9109.
The assessor’s office reassesses Cook County properties every 3 years, with north suburban properties being reassessed this year, south suburban residences slated for reassessment next year, and City of Chicago properties having been reassessed last year, under former assessor Joe Berrios’ administration.
"Nobody likes paying taxes, that’s a fact. But ward seniors not getting their entitled exemptions have been the major issue for my office recently," Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th) said.
Major exemptions include the homeowner’s exemption that can save $250 to $2,000 annually at a homeowner’s primary residence, the home improvement exemption that allows for write-offs of up to $75,000 in home improvements from its taxable value for at least 4 years, or the senior freeze and senior citizen exemptions, which halt increases in or reduce senior homeowners’ equalized assessed values.
"Quite a few people have been missing their exemptions, which aren’t necessarily automatically applied to the next year’s bills, so we’ve been advising people to work to receive those," Alderman Anthony Napolitano’s (41st) chief of staff Chris Vittorio said.
"A big misconception we’ve heard (from residents) is that there was a tax increase, when it was essentially due to the triennial assessment last year and they determined that property values, especially on the Northwest Side, are higher than previously determined," Vittorio said.
"There’s some severe sticker shock … but it’s important to know this was not a tax rate increase, there was a property value increase. And many people are not familiar with the appeals process and that they can get relief," he said.
Homeowners from Jefferson, Lake View and Rogers Park townships are slated to pay an average $536.17 to $5,218.84 in extra taxes, or an average 3 percent increase for this year’s bills compared to last year, according to a tax year 2018 tax rate report by County Clerk Karen Yarbrough. This year’s bills are the first ones to apply tax rates to Chicago’s 2018 reassessed property values. The bills are due Aug. 1.
Assessor’s Office spokesman Scott Smith said that these changes are driven by increases in market property values on the North Side. South Side homeowners in Lake and Hyde Park townships face about a 0.98 percent property bill increase, according to the report.
Veronica Pirado, spokeswoman for Alderman Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd), said that assessments of city properties have hit some residents hard.
"Many people have seen around double the price or cost of taxes. We cover Avondale, that part of the ward has received the most increases in property taxes," she said. "Because of tax increases many Spanish or LatinX residents are getting kicked out of their neighborhood. It’s gentrification."
The Assessor’s Office uses mathematical assessment models and standards set by the Consulting Alliance, which are based on recommendations from the International Association of Assessing Officers. The new standards will first apply to Chicago taxpayers during the 2021 reassessment. Residential property assessments are based on mathematical models because such properties are too numerous to individually assess, as opposed to commercial properties that are often individually assessed.
"So that’s the big difference between residential and commercial assessments," Assessor’s Office spokeswoman Meaghan Murphy said. "On residential properties we’re talking of a system of math appraisal, not individually looking at everyone’s home."
Norwood Park Township was the first reassessed area in 2019 under the Fritz Kaegi’s administration, and residences saw a median 23 percent increase in assessed value since the 2016 reassessment, compared with an average 25 percent increase in market property values over that timeframe, according to a 2019 residential assessment report of Norwood Park Township by the assessor’s office.
Norwood Park Township includes the villages of Harwood Heights, and Norridge. Part of the assessed taxable valuation is about 10 percent of the total market value for owned residential or rental apartment properties, which are then multiplied by the state’s equalization factor and adjusted to account for exemptions to create the adjusted equalized assessed value that tax bills are calculated on.
"When that translates to people’s bills, lets say your assessment increased by 25 percent. That doesn’t mean your bill necessarily goes up by 25 percent, because it’s all about the share of the pie you’re paying," Murphy said. "You need to think and include what goes on with everyone else’s assessment. If everyone’s goes up the same amount, no one necessarily pays different because people are still in an equal share of the pie."
Residents are advised to appeal their property assessments with both the Assessor’s Office and the Cook County Board of Review, which can reduce their equalized assessed value as well.
"The Board of Review is intended to be an independent office to be a check on our work, for homeowners who believe we got it wrong. They have a different standard for evidence … and they’re intended to be like how Congress acts as a check on the President," Smith said. "From there, it’s possible somebody could take the matter up with the property tax assessment board, or ultimately to the courts. In some cases, challenges to assessments on properties could stretch beyond the Board of Review and stretch into the next assessment period."
"We encourage appeals to both entities. A nice thing of the Board of Review, they allow pre-filing online before their window technically opens," Vittorio said.
The Assessor’s Office’s appeals window for Jefferson Township opens Aug. 7, while North suburban appeals windows will close on a rolling basis by township, generally through August.