This year, one candidate seems to want to change it all. He wants to make it easier for property owners to file their own appeals, rather than go through the lawyers who donate heavily to the three member “Board of Whatever?”
Sean Morrison has some great ideas. He says that he wants to put the appeal process online so that regular property tax owners like you and me can scan our documents, submit them online and instead of taking time off from our workday or paying the attorneys to do it all for us, we can conduct a hearing using Skype.
Morrison notes that right now, most property tax owners don’t get big breaks and they go through lawyers who specialize in this appeal process. When you hire a lawyer, the lawyer takes 50 percent of the savings “upfront.” That’s painful because most property taxes are not paid until a year later so you’d still pay the high taxes the year you appeal, plus pay half to the attorney, and you wouldn’t feel it until the following year.
Morrison also notes that most property owners who appeal only save a few hundred dollars. The real savings seem to lean towards the commercial properties and big businesses that can afford to have attorneys on their staffs full-time and mount more aggressive challenges.
“Homeowners don’t really need attorneys, but right now the system makes it hard for them to do it themselves,” Morrison explains. “But when you look at the data, 65 percent of the applicants for a property tax reduction only get a few hundred dollars knocked off their bills. The system is set up to make the voter, not the property owner, feel like someone cares or that the system is working. They don’t and the system is not working the way it should.”
I remember appealing my taxes at one of those pre-election campaign events called “Seminars to Appeal your Taxes” where the incumbents on the three-member board go out and basically beg for your votes. I filled out the paperwork but the board flat out rejected my appeal, even though the house had been damaged by flooding. I’d written several columns hammering the worthless board in the past so I figure anyone of them could have kicked my paperwork behind a desk.
But Morrison gives me some hope. I like his ideas, putting the process online. Morrison ran for this seat in 2010. The three commissioners run from three districts, two in Chicago (end up being Democrats) and one in the suburbs (where Republicans can grab one seat). He lost to Republican Dan Patlak but is making a second charge.
Morrison says he has tried but has been denied FOIA requests for data tracking how much the lawyers who appear before the board get for their clients, so we can see real facts on how the system favors big commercial properties. But the Board of Tax Review doesn’t keep that incriminating evidence.
If Morrison is elected, in addition to bringing the “Board of Whatever” into the 21st century as the Board of Review, he’ll also start documenting data on that very important point. Something the incumbents really don’t want you to know.
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