Dan Patlak: Candidate profile, Cook County Board of Review

Incumbent Republican Dan Patlak of Wheeling faces a challenge from Democrat Tammy Wendt, a Palos Heights attorney, in the race for 1st District commissioner of the Cook County Board of Review, which evaluates property tax appeals.

The Daily Herald recently asked the candidates to answer a series of questions. Here are their replies.

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Q. What special knowledge or experience do you have that particularly qualifies you to be on the Board of Review? If you are an incumbent, describe your main contributions. If you are a challenger, what would you bring to the Board and what would your priority be?

A. When I first ran for commissioner, I was arguably the best qualified non-incumbent to ever run for the Board of Review. The following is the experience, education and background I now bring to the Board of Review.

• Served as a commissioner at the Board since 2010.

• The first ever full-time Board of Review Commissioner.

• Wheeling Township Assessor from 2006-2010.

• Analyst at the Board specializing in residential, commercial apartment and exempt properties, 1999-2006.

• Represented the Board at over 500 property tax appeal board hearings.

• Certified Illinois Assessing Officer.

• Graduate of the Real Estate Institute.

• Real estate broker since 1986.

• Bachelor of Science degree in business administration, with concentration in finance from Valparaiso University.

• Member, Citizens Against Government Waste.

• Member, International Association of Assessing Officers.

• Member of National and Illinois Association of Realtors.

We have created a state-of-the-art Digital Appeals Processing System that was recognized with an achievement award from the National Association of Counties. The DAPS allows taxpayers to create their own electronic file, upload evidence to that file, receive an email notification when their decision is ready, check their file for the Board decision and review analyst notes on their decision.

Further contributions (are listed) under transparency and customer service.

Q. How does the Board of Review effectively balance the financial needs of the county with requests from taxpayers to lower assessments?

A. Assessment reductions granted by the Board don't impact the amount of taxes collected by government bodies. The amount of taxes collected is set by individual taxing districts. However, an assessment reduction for one property does increase the relative share of taxes owed by other properties.

The Board's duty is to fairly and objectively analyze appeals from property owners and grant reductions when sufficient evidence of over-assessment is presented.

The Board has reduced borrowing costs for taxing bodies and subsequent costs to taxpayers by completing our work and allowing tax bills to be mailed on time every year for the first time in 34 years beginning in 2012.

Q. What changes would you propose in the operation of the Board of Review?

A. Digital Appeals Processing System: Each year, as our budget has allowed, we have made incremental improvements to the Digital Appeals Processing System. This year we plan to do the following:

• Increase d-base and workflow computer speeds

• Improve system integration for the processing of related complaints within condo and townhouse complexes

• Integrating analytical tools into our digital evidence and processing work flow.

• Making market sales data easier to access for our analysts

• Improving the handling and storage of electronic documents

Transparency: We plan to increase the amount of data available on our website regarding appeals filed that has, until now, required a FOIA request to access.

Efficiency: We plan to make an online bulk filing tool available for those who file large numbers of appeals, which will reduce errors and duplications.

We will work with the State of Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board as they improve their technology to integrate with the BoR's system.

The last of our 1 million-plus paper files (which once contained tens of millions of pages of evidence) remaining from our pre-DAPS era will be disposed of and destroyed as allowed by law. The freed-up space will then be available to other county offices.

Q. How do you view the responsibilities of the Board and the level of assessments as they apply to commercial and to residential taxpayers? What differences do you see between the two types of taxpayer, and how is, or should be, the Board of Review set up to deal with them appropriately?

A. 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. Both residential and commercial analysts are trained and provided with the appropriate tools to conduct a fair adjudication of appeals.

I have conducted hundreds of seminars, created and am now presenting webinars to teach ordinary homeowners how they can appeal without the help of an attorney and avoid the associated costs.

Q. Describe your position on transparency and customer service at the Board of Review. How easy and convenient is it for average citizens to appeal their taxes? What, if anything, should be done to improve procedures?

A. My staff and I have put a premium on customer service and making it easy to appeal from the comfort of your own home. Transparency is at its highest level ever. Our goal is to be 100% accountable to our constituents. To that end, we have done the following:

• Since 2011 we have published an annual report.

• Created the first Freedom of Information page on the BOR website.

• Created a decision database accessed on our website where the public can check our decisions.

• Appellants can electronically view their decision and any notes from the analysts who reviewed their appeal.

• Created, providing detailed information about property tax related issues.

• Created a one-hour webinar on how to file an appeal.

• I regularly attend the monthly Cook County Township Assessors Association meetings.

• Started online appeals in 2011, with 91% now appealing online.

• Created the digital Appeals Processing System, allowing appellants to create a permanent file for their properties, upload their evidence and review their decision online.

• Reduced waiting time at residential hearings from 15 to two minutes.

• I am present at every residential hearing session.

• Now offer hearings by telephone.

• Personally presented nearly 400 Assessment Appeal Seminars.

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