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posted: 7/9/2018 5:30 AM

Lake County Board may ask Rauner to alter chief assessor bill

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  • The text of Senate Bill 2544, which lets voters decide if the Lake County chief assessment officer should be an elected position. It's awaiting Gov. Bruce Rauner's signature.

      The text of Senate Bill 2544, which lets voters decide if the Lake County chief assessment officer should be an elected position. It's awaiting Gov. Bruce Rauner's signature.
    Russell Lissau | Staff Photographer

  • Aaron Lawlor

    Aaron Lawlor

  • Marty Paulson

    Marty Paulson

  • Sam Yingling

    Sam Yingling

  • Craig Taylor

    Craig Taylor

  • Julie Simpson

    Julie Simpson

  • Steve Carlson

    Steve Carlson

  • Vance Wyatt

    Vance Wyatt

 
 

The Lake County Board may ask Gov. Bruce Rauner to alter legislation designed to make the county's chief assessment officer an elected post rather than appointed.

A bill that would let voters decide how Lake County's assessment officer is hired has cleared the legislature and is awaiting Rauner's signature. If Rauner signs, a binding question would appear on Nov. 6 ballots in Lake County.

The post would be up for election starting in 2020 if voters approve the plan.

Lake County officials are weighing asking Rauner to use his amendatory veto power to expand the legislation so the same question appears on ballots for the roughly 60 Illinois counties that have board-appointed assessment officers and board-chosen chairmen, just as Lake does. The board will debate forwarding the veto request to Rauner Tuesday.

"We support the right of voters to make this decision," said Chairman Aaron Lawlor, a Vernon Hills Republican. "But if it's such a good idea, why not make it applicable (elsewhere)?"

Targeting Lake

The bill, which had bipartisan support in Springfield, is the third piece of state legislation in the last five years to target Lake County government.

In 2013, the General Assembly stripped election oversight from the county clerk and created a Lake County election commission. Lawlor sued to block the change, and a judge declared the law unconstitutional.

Last year, legislators approved a plan to let voters elect the county board's chairman, rather than continuing to have members choose their leader. Rauner vetoed it.

The latest bill singles out veteran Chief Assessment Officer Marty Paulson's job.

Paulson's office coordinates property tax assessment activity in Lake County. It oversees the work of township assessors and mails annual assessment notices to property owners, among other duties.

Paulson, who through a spokeswoman declined to comment, has feuded with some township assessors who said he ignored their reassessments. Paulson and the county have been sued twice by those assessors, but both cases were dismissed.

Yingling leads charge

State Rep. Sam Yingling, a Grayslake Democrat, championed the legislation. He has called Lake County's property tax system "dysfunctional" and said the chief assessment officer can unilaterally increase assessments and drive up taxes.

But county board member Craig Taylor, a Lake Zurich Republican, believes the legislation stems from the disputes between Paulson and the assessors. Taylor said some GOP lawmakers who backed the bill didn't know about those fights.

"They've been duped, in my opinion, into going along with this," Taylor said. "Why would you want to have an assessor who's tied to a political party?"

Yingling isn't the only Democrat tying Paulson's nonelected status to the county's relatively high property taxes. So is county board candidate Julie Simpson of Vernon Hills, who's challenging Lawlor and made a campaign video supporting the legislation.

In the 30-second spot, Simpson calls the proposed amendatory veto "a deceitful, political maneuver that deprives us our right to vote."

Adding counties will create a delay and prevent the question from appearing on this November's ballot, Simpson told the Daily Herald.

"If other counties are interested in passing similar measures, they are welcome to learn from the grass-roots campaign that was built in Lake County," she said, referring to a local petition drive against a veto. "We need reform now, not two years from now."

'It will fail again'

Critics of the legislation, however, say changing how the assessment officer is chosen won't lower tax bills.

"The only way to materially effect property tax reduction is a reform of the way schools are funded," said county Commissioner Steve Carlson, a Gurnee-area Republican.

Carlson also dislikes that the legislation targets Lake County, even though most of Illinois' 102 counties appoint chief assessment officers in the same manner. To Carlson, the bill smacks of previous legislative attempts to weaken Lake County politicians.

"This has been tried twice before and failed both times," he said. "It will fail again. It will either be vetoed or it will eventually lose in court."

A Rauner spokeswoman couldn't be reached about the governor's plans for the bill.

Not all county commissioners want a veto. North Chicago Democrat Vance Wyatt supports putting the question on Lake County ballots as proposed.

"We need to look at all options for (tax) reforms," he said.

Still, Wyatt said he would have preferred the proposal come from the board or citizens rather than legislators.

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