Cook County's suburban seat on the Board of Review pits incumbent Republican Dan Patlak against Democratic challenger Casey Griffin.
Essentially operating as the county's property tax appeal arm, the three-member panel has been swamped in recent years with requests for assessment relief because of changes made in the way properties were valued as well as the nationwide decline in property values. Almost 400,000 appeals were filed in each of the past two years, according to Board of Review records.
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Patlak, of Wheeling, believes his experience in real estate, as a Wheeling Township assessor and his two years in office make him the best candidate for the post. He is the only Republican on the board, as well.
"It is in the best interest of all Cook County residents that at least one of the three ... seats remains in the hands of an authentic, honest, qualified and competent Republican," Patlak said.
Despite greater cooperation between the Board of Review and offices of county assessor, clerk and treasurer in recent years, Griffin, of Midlothian, believes the office needs to be more transparent.
"I believe the board must work to restore the public's confidence in the property tax system," he said. "The Board of Review should make all of its decisions immediately available online, including both the numeric result of its decision and the hearing officer's methodology."
Cook County assesses property differently than any county in the state, using different mathematical formulas to determine assessments than the other counties. There are even different formulas for determining the values of residential properties than those used to determine values of commercial properties. Despite the challenges these differing methods create, neither candidate believes the process should be abandoned and made uniform with the rest of the state.
Analysis of appeal records over the past few years has shown that commercial property owners average a greater assessment reduction than owners of residential properties. Massive reductions on commercial property values shifts the taxing burden to residential property owners. Again, neither candidate said they would support measures to limit assessment reductions for commercial properties.
"Property is property, regardless of its use as commercial or residential and as such should be treated the same," Griffin said. "I do not support a limit on how much a property owner can get in reductions from one year to another because a reduction should only be given if there is a mistake or error in the bill."
Patlak wouldn't support limits, either.
"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," he said.
Patlak was attacked by Griffin for accepting campaign donations from attorneys and law firms that represent property owners in appeals before the board. Griffin said he set a self-imposed limit of $250 on donations from attorneys. Patlak noted that he wasn't accepting campaign contributions from law firms whose partners included House Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton and Chicago Alderman Ed Burke. In their most recent filings with the state's board of elections, Griffin's campaign coffers amounted to just under $5,000 while Patlak's has more than $213,000 remaining.
The District 1 seat on the board represents all of the northern panhandle of the county and much of the westernmost and southernmost properties as well.