Wednesday, February 22, 2012
The Cook County Board of "Whatever" -- Sean Morrison working to change it
The Cook County “Board of Whatever”
By Ray Hanania
They changed the name of the Board of Tax Appeals a long time ago because in the old days, the incumbents didn’t like the fact that many taxpayers only associated their property tax increases with that office.
So they changed it to the Board of Review, to get rid of that annoying word “Tax.”
It’s one of the most significant things the body has done, besides take money from attorneys who milk property owners to submit the complex appeals.
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 fulltime 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 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.
(Listen to Ray Hanania every Sunday on WSBC AM 1240 Radio from 8 until 11 am. www.RadioChicagoland.com.)
Morrison has some great ideas. Why doesn't the Board of Review include applications in the Cook County Tax bills that go out to all residential homes allowing them to apply for a tax review and reduction themselves?
Seems like a simple thing to do, that isn't being done.
One reason is that the Board of Tax Review seems to be pandering to the big commercial businesses and properties that donate huge money to their political campaign funds.
Morrison also says he wants to reduce the number of big commercial properties that are getting tax cuts. Seriously, you have to ask why are we cutting down the property tax bills of big companies? When we do, as Morrison points out, we're just punishing the single family homeowner because they're the ones who have to pick up the lost property tax slack when businesses get big discounts. And, businesses are getting BIGGER discounts on their properties than homeowners are getting. That tells you where the concern of the Board of "Whatever" is really at.
They don't care about the little guy, you or me. They don't care about property taxes on homes. They care about big business. It's obvious.
And it's even more obvious that needs to change.
-- Ray Hanania