It's just possible the Cook County Board of Review is hearing more tax appeals this year than any other tribunal in the United States, says spokesman Scott Guetzow.
A verbal sparring match between the board and retiring Assessor Jim Houlihan over whether the county property tax bills will be sent out before the Nov. 2 election has been going on since spring.
Houlihan sees a conspiracy.
But if the bills don't make it out by then, Guetzow said, it won't be the Board of Review's fault.
Under the tax process, Houlihan's office must finish its assessments before the Board of Review can start hearing appeals. Houlihan's office said it finished its work by April 29.
In a March 25 letter, the three Board of Review commissioners said it would take two-and-a-half to three months to process this year's appeals. Under that schedule, the Board of Review should be finished at the end of the week. If history is a guide, that means the tax bills could be in the mail in late October.
But this year is different.
On Monday, Guetzow said that as of July 13, the board had returned to the assessor's office 16 of the county's 38 townships. That's five more than were completed at the end of June, but still well shy of a complete job. Although the appeal process is taking longer than usual, he said he thinks the tax bills can be out before the election.
Usually, most tax appeals are filed by property owners from "triennial" townships that have been reassessed in a particular year. But this year, people in the "non-triennial" townships are appealing, too. For example, in Wheeling Township, which was not reassessed, appeals were up 474 percent. Elk Grove Township, also not reassessed, saw an increase of 485 percent. That's because many property owners are reacting to the assessor's new "10-25" rule, Guetzow said. The rule, designed to add clarity to the process, is leading property owners to think the market value of their property has been unduly raised, he said.
Houlihan thinks the 10-25 rule is just good government and isn't causing delays.
The second installments of tax bills - technically, they're due to be out in late summer - typically are late in Cook County. But Schaumburg Township Assessor John R. Lawson said Monday local officials had been hearing that the bills might not be out until March of 2011, which would throw the budgets of many schools, municipalities, libraries and other taxing districts significantly out of kilter.
According to Lawson, the fall tax bills haven't been on time since 1977.
As for the idea the bills intentionally will be delayed until after the election, Guetzow said: "There is no conspiracy. We want to get them done as early as possible."
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