CHARLESTON — Figuring out a property's value for taxes the owner pays starts with a somewhat broad look, then it's up to the owner to try to fine-tune it if there's a disagreement.
Some of the dynamics of the assessment and taxing process have been in the spotlight since Coles County moved to assign new values to the county's commercial and industrial property.
While it might seem the better route would be to visit and inspect each piece of property, that's "not realistic," county Supervisor of Assessments Karen Biddle said.
Appraiser Bob Becker is conducting the reassessment of the commercial and industrial property by looking at such things as replacement costs and the sale prices of similar properties, she explained.
"He's using an accepted method," Biddle said.
That hasn't stopped a series of questions and complaints about the process, led by the Concerned Taxpayers of Coles County, a group that formed shortly after the project started.
In addition to legal action against the county, group members regularly attend Coles County Board meetings to address the issue and have frequently noted what they said are discrepancies in the assessment process.
Concerned Taxpayers member James DiNaso said he feels there's been no progress toward a resolution. Instead, he said, the board continues "to go down the same path."
He noted the county board's recent appointment of Dan Lawrence, one of its former members, to the county Board of Review.
"They need to remember they work for the people and if they continue on this path they're going to find themselves on the losing end," DiNaso said.
He and others in the group felt Lawrence's history with the county board meant he could favor the county's position over that of property owners on assessment appeals.
At the time, Lawrence said his felt his county board experience would be helpful and he pledged to be fair.
The Board of Review handles assessment appeals and is the group to which property owners have to first turn if they feel their properties' assessments aren't correct.
Becker said some of the complaints about assessments are because of such things as the exterior of a building going unchanged for years. Meanwhile, the interior could have been emptied "but we don't know that," he said.
"It's not a science and it's never going to be perfect," Becker said.
He's now on the third of the four stages of the project after finishing reassessments in Mattoon and Charleston townships.
The work is now addressing Lafayette, Humboldt, North Okaw and Paradise townships and the reassessment of the remaining quarter of the county is set for next year.
Becker said his work includes what's called a cost approach, inputting factors such as the construction cost of a building and its depreciation because of age into a computer software system.
Sales comparisons are also used, he added, looking at the selling price of a similar site to help determine a property's value.
It's "ideal" if there have been several comparable sales but that's not often the case, Becker said. He said he uses the two methods to try to "reconcile to a final value."
Becker said a full appraisal of a piece of property would undoubtedly be more accurate but it's not practical.
"You could never find the resources to go into everybody's property," he said.
The county's system for assessments also allows for modifications, Becker said.
That meant adjustments on rental property in Charleston were possible, he said. It took into account the lower amount of rent revenue they've generated because of Eastern Illinois University's enrollment decline, he said.
"I think the process is working," Becker said. "I think things outside my control could have gone differently but I think the project was done the best way it could have been done."
Matt Frederick, Board of Review chairman, said he thinks that most of the reassessments were accurate when Becker had enough information available on the properties.
"The figures weren't far off," he said. "The vast majority that came before the Board of Review were satisfied."
Some adjustments were made and there were a "handful" of properties that were assessed inaccurately, which was to be expected, Frederick said. The board's goal is to help property owners from having to take their cases of the Illinois Property Tax Appeals Board, he added.
Local governments throughout the state handle assessments differently, said Josh Tanner, president of the County Assessment Officers Association.
In some counties, township assessors perform the bulk of the on-the-ground assessments, with their findings reviewed by the county’s Supervisor of Assessments. In other counties without many townships or in which there are many township vacancies, the county assessor’s office handles the bulk of the field work.
“Townships vary in size, counties vary in size, and so the statutes have allowed a number of ways to approach the problem and solve it,” said Tanner, who is also the Supervisor of Assessments for Macon County. “Each county is empowered to choose the way that works for them.”
In any case, those who have issues with how their properties are assessed can take their case to the county’s board of review and, beyond that, to the state Property Tax Appeal Board, Tanner said.
Tanner said he has heard of counties where properties haven’t been reassesed for decades. Those cases often come down to vacancies among township assessors or a lack of resources for the county assessor’s office, he said.
“Unfortunately, (the office of) assessments doesn’t receive a lot of money when it comes to budgeting. It takes a lot of money to do the job,” Tanner said. “Viewing each house, photographing them, measuring them -- there’s a reason why there’s a lot of township assessor vacancies.”
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