Assessors claim Lake County is unfairly taxing thousands
A lawsuit filed Thursday claims policies enacted by Lake County's appointed assessment supervisor are unfairly inflating property tax bills for thousands of residents.
The suit filed by the Lake County Assessors Association and several residents argues Lake County Chief Assessment Officer Marty Paulson is ignoring annual revaluations by some township assessors and instead applying a blanket increase on all properties in a township. The suit also names the county as a defendant, since the county board hired Paulson.
Grant Township Assessor Jeri Barr, who also heads the assessors association, said her office reassessed 18,000 properties over the past two years.
"All were reversed within 72 hours, which means (Paulson) didn't read any of them," Barr said. "That means property owners who should have had their values reduced are paying higher taxes and the ones whose values should have increased aren't paying the taxes they should."
Paulson and Lake County Administrator Barry Burton did not respond to calls for comment.
Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor said the county and the assessors agreed to have Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office adjudicate the dispute, but the assessors reneged a week later.
"We do not believe (the issues) will be completely resolved by the narrow scope of an attorney general's opinion," Barr wrote to Lawlor in a September email. "Unfortunately, we believe the best approach for all to get finality on these issues is to proceed to court in a 'friendly lawsuit.'" Lawlor called the lawsuit a "waste of tax dollars."
"There's nothing 'friendly' about township assessors forcing a costly lawsuit that wastes taxpayer dollars when the issue can be resolved by requesting an (attorney general's) opinion," Lawlor said.
Ela Township Assessor John Barrington disputes Lawlor's account, saying the assessors asked the county consider whatever opinion Madigan's office rendered to be binding, but never received that assurance.
"It is our position that the only way to resolve the specific issues at hand is with an impartial, third party providing a judgment that is binding for all parties," Barrington said.
The lawsuit also alleges Paulson's office is arbitrarily awarding tax breaks to property owners without holding board of review hearings. The assessors claim in the suit that a Libertyville Township commercial property's value was reduced by $11 million without such a hearing, cutting the company's property tax bill by nearly $1 million. That $1 million owed to various taxing bodies had to be shifted to other property owners in the township and county.
The lawsuit filed in circuit court Thursday is similar to one filed in federal court last year that was thrown out by a judge who did not find that the assessors' civil rights had been violated as alleged. At that time, Burton accused the assessors of improperly reassessing properties annually instead of every four years.
However, Barr said the assessors were only following an edict handed down from Paulson's office in the wake of the Great Recession to more aggressively reassess property values annually based on neighboring property sales.