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D86 Board Discusses Intervention in Property Assessment Disputes

Debate on the question generated sparks at Monday’s meeting.

Monday night’s Board of Education meeting at was dominated by the question of whether and to what extent the district should contest reductions in assessed property values.

The debate centered on a resolution offered during Board President Dennis Brennan’s report to authorize the Chicago law firm of Scariano, Himes and Petrarca to represent the district’s interests before the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board (PTAB).

The board ultimately voted to authorize intervention for commercail appeals if it's determined to be necessary. The vote, however, didn't come without controversy. 

The topic had been discussed at recent board meetings with board members Dianne Barrett and Dr. Richard Skoda voicing opposition to intervening in assessment disputes.

Before any discussion of the resolution began Monday night, Brennan suggested that the ordinance be amended to authorize interventions only in cases involving commercial property assessments, while interventions in residential assessments would be suspended for 60 days. He said the 60-day time period would give the board a chance to gather more information on the effectiveness of residential assessment interventions and “whether we should be doing it at all.”

“We’ve had this discussion—not only in public, but in the back room with our lawyers,” Barrett said. “I don’t see why we need a 60-day window.”

Downers Grove Township Assessor Theresa Cockrell attended the board meeting. Barrett asked her about the impact of the district’s lawyers with the PTAB.

“I don’t know as it made a difference,” Cockrell said.

Cost Benefit Questioned

Cockrell noted that the supervisor of assessments for DuPage County had told her no other government entities intervene on a regular basis in residential assessment disputes and she added that Lemont High School District 210 was the only other taxing body to intervene in Downers Grove Township assessment issues, and those only involved commercial properties.

“Which means Downers Grove Township, Downers Grove High School, Westmont High School, the Village of Hinsdale, the Village of Oak Brook, the forest preserves—all of these entities are not intervening, even against commercial,” Skoda said.

The board member listed yearly figures since 2008 showing the district had spent more than $46,000 in the past three-and-a-half years on PTAB interventions.

“Where is the cost benefit analysis?” Skoda asked.

Brennan said that was part of the reason he suggested waiting 60 days on the question of residential assessments, so the board could gather that sort of information.

Sparks Fly

Skoda asked what business the board had in property assessment matters.

“I think our interest is that we’re not redistributing it among all the other taxpayers,” Brennan responded, echoing Cockrell’s observation that if an assessed valuation is successfully appealed by the taxpayer, the tax rate for everyone in the district rises to make up for the lost revenue from that property.

“You’re wrong there Dennis and you know you’re wrong,” Skoda said. “That argument holds no water. It’s a red herring.”

Skoda said that the district was only intervening in cases where a residential property owner was seeking a reduction in assessed valuation of $100,000 or more, which is equivalent to a reduction of $300,000 or more in fair market value.

Brennan suggested that one reason District 86 might be intervening in residential cases when other bodies were not is that the district includes some communities with high-value properties, such as Hinsdale, Oak Brook, and Burr Ridge.

“There’s a lot of property value there,” he said. “I think all the information we’re getting is interesting. … I think it’s something that should be studied. think we can make a reasonable decision if we sit down and look at all the facts.”

Brennan then called for a vote on his motion to approve the resolution amended to include a 60-day waiting period on residential interventions. It passed on a 5-2 vote, with Barrett and Skoda voting against it.

Barrett protested that Brennan had closed discussion on the matter prematurely.

“If you don’t like it, sue,” Brennan said, seemingly referring to Barrett's ongoing lawsuit over documents she had requested from the district, in which Brennan is named as a defendant.

Brennan’s remark prompted an angry response from some members of the DuPage County Tea Party in attendance.

“Muammar Gaddafi, just slow down,” said John Greaves of Hinsdale, comparing Brennan to the Libyan dictator. “I don’t care who you are, sir, but you do have a dignity that goes with the position you were elected to.”

“You’re out of order,” Brennan told Greaves.

“You, sir, are out of order,” Greaves said. “You called an unethical, immoral, and illegitimate process to bulldoze your bully-pulpit tactic through. You have not understood or even comprehended what this board is discussing because you don’t care to.”

Question time

The board moved on to other business, but Barrett used the audience communication part of the agenda near the end of the meeting to again raise the PTAB issue, suggesting that the vote on the matter was not valid because no ordinance number had been read. She reiterated her position that the board simply should vote not to intervene in any property assessment disputes.

“You identified some of the board members as doing this for political reasons and nothing could be further from the truth,” Barrett said.

“Of course not,” Brennan said.

While that response may have been tinged with a trace of sarcasm, board and audience members seemed to have cooled off since the topic first was discussed. Board member Kay Gallo suggested that perhaps Cockrell could return and give the board a presentation on the property tax assessment process, which Cockrell agreed to do.

Greaves also appeared less charged when he returned to the microphone during the audience communication period.

“I do suggest, earnestly, that we should be behaving as our citizens are being obliged to behave, with a conscience with regard to expenditures and a reality with regard to whether we can collect monies in the future,” Greaves said.

Don Damon July 21, 2011 at 02:51 PM
It's unclear from either the Patch article or from the D86 Board Briefs whether a cost-benefit document was presented at the board meeting to justify moving forward with a vote on authorizing the district's attorneys to intervene on commercial PTAB appeals (I understand from the article that such a report didn't exist for residential appeals). The expenditure of $46,000 over the previous 4 years is a lot of money if the results don't return considerably more than that in a short time. What results did our $46,000 buy?
Dennis Jacobs July 21, 2011 at 05:56 PM
Thanks for the question Don. No cost-benefit analysis information was presented at the meeting and none was included with the agenda and related information for the meeting that was posted on the district website. I don't know that the issue is easily quantifiable. As the Downers Grove Township Assessor pointed out, even if an assessed valuation is successfully appealed by a property owner to the PTAB, the district does not lose revenue. Rather, the tax rate for everyone else goes up to make up the difference. So, from that standpoint, if that is correct, it's hard to see how a cost-benefit analysis could even be carried out because the answer would be it did not cost or save the district money (aside from attorney fees). On the other hand, it could be argued that since the bulk of district funding comes from property taxes, the district has a vested interest in making sure the value of poperties in the district remains at a high level. While the amount of taxes the individual pays might not change, the overall tax rate might be lower for everyone. A lower tax rate might theoretically make properties more attractive for buyers, which in turn might drive up property values in general. It's a complicated issue and I would add the caveat that I have a hard enough time understanding the property tax bill for where I live, so I am far from an expert on the topic.

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