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posted: 1/20/2012 5:30 AM

Record number of assessment complaints in Kane County

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The latest numbers show a record number of Kane County taxpayers filed property assessment complaints in an attempt to keep their tax bills from rising even as their home values plummet.

Kane County's Supervisor of Assessments Mark Armstrong said Thursday that assessment complaints for the 2011 tax year are up by 36 percentage points from the 2010 tax year.

The good news is that's a lower increase than Armstrong feared.

"If you're looking for any silver lining, I suppose that may be it," he said.

The bad news is the caseload of 3,133 complaint dockets may be more than the county's Board of Review can handle. The board has until March 15 to knock out the cases in time for the legal deadline to send out property tax bills. If that appears to be the case as the deadline gets closer, Armstrong said the county may have to fork out more money than it budgeted to hire staff or buy new equipment to speed the process along.

Indeed, the deadline pressure for the Board of Review has been steadily increasing since at least 2006. That year, 812 parcels were involved in complaints. There are more than 5,000 parcels involved in the latest round. Most of the growth in complaints is coming from single-family homeowners.

"The general economy is certainly a part of that," Armstrong said. "People are looking for any way they can to limit their property tax liability."

Armstrong said online documents, a video tutorial and a much improved website have also made the process of filing a complaint much easier. In fact, Armstrong said property owners representing themselves in the complaint process are now just as successful as property owners who hire an attorney at getting their assessments lowered. This year, many of the property owners complaining live in either Rutland or Dundee townships.

Property owners there account for about one-third of the total number of complaints this year. In Dundee, complaints increased by 111 percent. In Rutland, the complaints rose by 257 percent.

Armstrong said those complaints are most likely inspired by events in Grafton Township in McHenry County. Last year, Grafton Township dropped its overall assessed value by 18 percent. That shifted the tax burden for five taxing bodies that straddle the McHenry County and Kane County border over to Kane. The impact of that has been so great that even property owners qualifying for a senior citizen tax freeze have seen their property tax bill skyrocket by 20 percent. Armstrong said he expects Kane County's Board of Review will redistribute that tax burden more evenly and many of those significantly higher property tax bills will drop for people who filed complaints.

In the meantime, Armstrong said a regional task force will examine ways to speed up the complaint process. Armstrong will report back if that results in suggestions that will require Kane County to spend more money.

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