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Note: Answers provided have not been edited for grammar, misspellings or typos. In some instances, candidate claims that could not be immediately verified have been omitted.
Website: http:// www.electpatlak.com/
Office sought: Cook Board of Review 1st District
Family: Married to Dulce; son Teddy 11
Occupation: Commissioner, Cook County Board of Review
Education: Valparaiso University, Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with concentration in Finance Licensed Real Estate Broker since 1986 Graduate of the Real Estate Institute (GRI) Certified Illinois Assessing Officer (CIAO)
Civic involvement: Parishoner, St. Joseph the Worker Church 4th degree Knight of Columbus, Regina Council
Elected offices held: Commissioner, Cook County Board of Review December 2010-Present Wheeling Township Assessor, January 2006-December 2010 Board Member, East Maine School District 63 1995-1997
Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: NO
Key Issue 1
Elect a qualified commissioner to represent the 1st District.? Taxpayers deserve candidates and elected officials who are actually qualified for the position which they seek and who have demonstrated some previous interest in the issues affected by the office they wish to hold. Please allow me to explain why I am the only qualified candidate for this office. With a demonstrated interest in fair and equitable taxation, I possess the practical hands on experience, formal education and professional accreditation that makes me uniquely qualified to serve the citizens of Cook County as a commissioner at the Board of Review. In addition, I am committed to continuing to serve as a full time commissioner of the Board of Review. My interest in tax and spend issues began not long after graduation from college in 1984. The Grace Commission report (Ronald Reagan?s) private sector survey on cost control) was of particular interest to me and eventually brought me to join Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and become a local volunteer coordinator. In the early 1990?s I organized two ?Taxpayer Action Day? rallies on behalf of CAGW at the Daley Plaza and the Kluczinski federal building. In addition, I testified before the Cook County Board against imposition of the original ? cent county sales tax. From 1986 to 1996 I worked as a full time Real Estate Broker. I attended the Real Estate Institute and earned the GRI designation held by only 9% of Realtors nationwide at that time. I worked at the Board of Review for Commissioner Maureen Murphy from 1999 to 2006. As an analyst specializing in residential, commercial apartment and exempt properties, I learned the intricacies and complexities of Cook County?s property tax system. In addition I supervised preparation of cases to be heard by the Property Tax Appeal Board (PTAB). I represented the county at over 500 oral hearings. I served as Commissioner Murphy?s Public Information Officer, writing press releases, responding to media inquiries, assisting in writing letters to the editor, contributing to the annual report and communicating with local elected officials. As a surrogate speaker for Commissioner Murphy I made presentations at approximately 60 assessment appeal seminars. While at the Board, I attended classes conducted by the International Association of Assessing Officers and the Illinois Property Assessment Institute and earned the designation of ?Certified Illinois Assessing Officer?- (C.I.A.O.). In 2005 I was elected Wheeling Township Assessor and was re-elected in 2009. Just prior to being sworn-in as Commissioner of the Board of Review in December 2010, I resigned as Wheeling Township Assessor and devoted myself to the Board of Review full time. I am a member of the National and Illinois Association of Realtors and the International Association of Assessing Officers.
Key Issue 2
Assuring that the minority Party in Cook County has an elected voice and set of eyes working full time at the Board of Review? In order to provide a minority party check and balance of a powerful office such as the Board of Review, it is in the best interest of all Cook County residents that at least one of three Board of Review commissioner seats remains in the hands of an authentic, honest, qualified and competent Republican. I have worked in concert with my fellow commissioners, both Democrats. Speaking for myself, cooperating this way on improvements, listed below in reply to the next question, has led to stronger decisions for the Board and the County.
Key Issue 3
Making the Board of Review a full time occupation and continuing to build on improvements made at the Board over the past twenty months-- Commissioners at the Board of Review earn a salary of $100,000 plus generous benefits. I made a commitment in the previous election to serve as a full-time commissioner and I have fulfilled that commitment. On-line appeals, which I helped enact, were just the first step in creating a totally digital and paperless system at the Board. The system is in development and will eventually allow us to decrease a variety of costs as well as build efficiencies in Board operations. Many significant improvements have already been made at the Board in the twenty months since my swearing in: On-Line appeals-On September 6, 2011 the Board began to offer on-line appeals to its constituents. Besides the convenience this offers to appellants it also allows the Board to be more efficient by reducing man hours associated with data input and reducing costs for printing complaint forms. Since installing on-line appeals, thousands of cases filed at the Board have come via the internet despite no budget to advertise our new program. In August of 2012 we improved our on-line appeal system by allowing property owners to pre-file their appeals even if their township has not yet opened for appeal at the Board. We expect usage and associated cost savings to increase significantly. Helping bring online appeals about fulfills a campaign promise I made during the last election. Educational Assessment Appeal Seminars-Since January of 2011, my staff and I have made presentations at more than 70 Assessment Appeal Outreach seminars. The seminars have educated thousands of tax payers regarding their rights to appeal as well as providing general information about the Cook County property tax system and exemptions available to homeowners. It is my belief that an educated taxpayer is an empowered taxpayer. They will be better informed when they go to the ballot box and attend meetings of their local taxing districts. These programs are a great success and will continue as long as property owners want them. Suburban satellite offices have remained open-Suburban tax payers constitute a majority of residents and property parcels in Cook County. Despite two difficult budget negotiations where the closing of our suburban offices was suggested by the administration, we have maintained all five of our suburban locations so that aggrieved property owners can speak to a Board representative in person without having to travel downtown. This required tough choices about other expenditures, but keeping these offices open is the fulfillment of another commitment I made. Continuing education for Analysts-Rather than relying only on internal training alone, my analysts took a assessment class (free of charge) offered by the Illinois Department of Revenue and an additional class on evaluating appraisals from a former instructor from the Illinois Property Assessment Institute. Annual Report posted on the Internet-In December 2011, the Board issued its first ever Annual Report signed on to by all three commissioners. The report details responsibilities of the Board, statistical information on number of appeals, success rates, budget and employees and interesting facts about the county. Our second annual report is due out shortly. The report is posted at www.cookcountyboardofreview.com. Once again, a promise made in my campaign has become and a promise kept in office. Permanently correcting errors in property description-Prior to my election, no mechanism existed between the Board of Review and the Assessor?s office to correct the Assessor?s property description records if the Board found an error in those records (I identified this as a potentially disastrous gap when working for Commissioner Murphy from 1999 to 2006). Within weeks of my election, the Board worked out an agreement with the Assessor?s office to correct property description errors discovered by the Board. This new arrangement has already saved many property owners the trouble of filing appeals repeatedly to get relief for the same mistake. It has also saved money for local governmental units who would stand to lose money when aggrieved taxpayers would file certificates of error to get a refund for what they overpaid based on incorrect property description. Correcting this long time problem was my pledge during the campaign and I am proud to have helped bring it about. Continuing to accept appeals at no charge to the appellant-This was a suggestion that was brought up during budget negotiations but was shot down by myself and the other two commissioners. It was also a commitment I made during the last election. Improved relations between the Assessor?s office and the Board of Review-Prior to the last election it is no secret that the Assessor?s office and the Board of Review were at each other?s throats for many years. The result? No cooperation and reduced efficiency in the county property tax system. Now our offices meet, discuss better ways to improve our operations, and cooperate to get tax bills out in a more timely and efficient manner. A key example of this new level of cooperation between the two offices is the Assessor making his technology department available to the Board to help get our on-line appeal system up and running. Tax bills mailed on time-State law requires that Cook County property tax bills be issued on July 1st and be due on August 1st. This year for the first time in thirty-four years Cook County complied with the law. This was the result of a concerted effort by several county offices including the Board of Review which finished its work at an earlier date than in recent memory. The result of the on-time tax bills is that local governments, dependent on property tax revenue have not had to dip into reserves or issue tax anticipation warrants to meet their budget obligations. We estimate this has saved taxpayers a minimum of three million dollars for every month that tax bills might have otherwise been issued late. Our goal is that Cook County will now adopt a regular property tax bill cycle in compliance with state statute where property owners will know with a high degree of certainty that tax bills will be issued on July 1st.
How does the Board of Review effectively balance the financial needs of the county with the requests from taxpayers to lower assessments?
Assessment reductions granted by the Board of Review do not impact the overall amount of taxes collected by government bodies. The total accumulated amount of taxes collected is set by individual taxing districts such as schools, villages, park districts and library districts (the levy). However, an assessment reduction for one property does increase the relative share of taxes owed by all other properties. Keeping that fact in mind, the Board?s duty is to fairly and objectively analyze appeals from aggrieved property owners and grant reductions when sufficient evidence of over-assessment is presented. The Board can reduce borrowing costs on the part of taxing bodies and subsequently costs to taxpayers by completing our work on a timely basis so that tax bills can be delivered on the timetable required by statute. The Board is working very hard to improve efficiency and close early enough for tax bills to be sent on time in 2013 as they were in 2012.
What improvements should be made to the office's and the county's ethics rules? What is your view of whether employees should be able to donate to you and others elected? What should the office's policy be on nepotism and why?
Board of Review employees are banned from making contributions to commissioners. I never have and never will solicit an employee of mine for a contribution. The Board of Review has recently finished drafting and will soon implement an ethics policy which bans the hiring of relatives of the three commissioners. My policy from the beginning of my term has been not to hire relatives. This was a pledge I made when last running for election and I will continue to fulfill it.
Can this office meet budget goals set forth by Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle without compromising services? Is so, how? If not, what alternative do you propose?
Budget time is always difficult. Each county office is competing with the others for scarce resources. Each year the Board of Review works with the President?s office and the seventeen elected county commissioners to agree on a lean budget that allows the Board to fulfill its statutory responsibility to review assessment appeals in a fair and timely manner. The Board of Review?s budget has been relatively static for a long time despite a four-fold increase in appeals over the past twelve years. The Board has met this challenge by increasing the use of technology, cross training employees and establishing a fair and equitable comp-time system. As pointed out above, our next step in efficiency is to go to a paperless system where all documents are submitted and reviewed by an analyst on a computer monitor. That step will take a significant capital investment and we are working with the President?s office and the Bureau of Technology to make it a reality.
Is it desirable for both commercial and residential property owners to be treated equally by the Board? How would you create that system, and would it include limits on how much of a reduction property owners can get from one year to the next?
All property owners have a right to expect that their appeal to the Board will be analyzed objectively based on the merits of the evidence available to the Board regardless of the type of property being appealed and regardless of whether they received a reduction in the previous year.
Address the bribery charges against John Racasi and Thomas Hawkins. What oversight do you propose to prevent corruption; also, what measures could trim the influence of firms with connections to politicians, when those firms file appeals?
Despite popular opinion to the contrary, firms with political connections do not have any more influence over the Board of Review than anyone else. With that said, the best way to assure fair and equitable decisions at the Board is to promote as much transparency as possible. All citizens have a right to appeal and to choose their own counsel. But the public has a right to know who is appealing, what contributions have been made, who is representing appellants, and the results received. For purposes of transparency and disclosure, the Board of Review saves all of its appeal files for five years. Those files are available for inspection by individuals, good government groups and the media to ensure that the decisions rendered are just and fair. The Board of Review is currently working to post all current appeals within a few days of their filing and the results after they are certified. My policy is to refuse political contributions from the big three law firms of Madigan, Cullerton and Burke. In my opinion, any political contributions in excess of $500 should be required to be reported to the State Board of Elections within 48 hours and posted on their web site immediately. Currently the state law only requires contributions of $1,000 or more to be reported within five business days of deposit. With respect to Mr. Racasi and Mr. Hawkins, once the charges against them were made known to the Board of Review we immediately suspended them. One week later, after consultation between the three commissioners and with counsel from the State?s Attorney, the two individuals were fired. We think this action tells employees where we stand on corruption better than any press release or rhetoric. The Board will cooperate fully with the U.S. Attorney?s office investigation if asked. The offenses allegedly took place in 2008, when I was not on the Board and in fact, all three Board of Review Commissioners were Democrats. This illustrates my contention that there must be a minority member on the Board to serve as a watchdog. I am the only Republican running for Board of Review commissioner in all of the three districts.