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posted: 3/21/2013 5:00 AM

Be careful about changing appeals

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Lake County's assessment and appeals system is a model of accuracy, openness and fairness. With an increase in appeals from taxpayers feeling financial distress or seeking fair tax levels, officials are now pressured by lawyers to change the rules of the game -- not to ensure consumer protections or enable appropriate regulation -- but to limit competition.

Lawyers have no special training in the administrative process of real estate tax appeals. Nor do they have special knowledge about appraisals and property valuations, financial and property management, or about government agencies that oversee assessments and appeals. Yet, they want to tell taxpayers in Lake County who they should rely on for assistance.

When you consider the example of Cook County, where public officials have been working in lock step with tax firm donors for decades, has the property tax system gotten better? They adopted a unique classification system, instituted requirements for attorney representation, and tinkered with numerous rules and reforms. The results: Cook County has the most complex and inaccurate assessment and appeals system in the nation (as measured by the proportional number of appeals).

Cook County's experience may not be the fate of Lake County if it opens the door to rule changes, but officials should pause to consider their goals. Is restricting access to consumer choice the best strategy to provide taxpayer safeguards, improve appeals quality, or enhance accuracy and fairness?

Michael C. Rohrbeck

Chicago

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