WICKER PARK — Amid rising home values and the increasing needs of a cash-strapped city, residents of popular neighborhoods are preparing to either fight the numbers or face significantly higher property tax bills.
About 107,000 homeowners across the city's West Township — which encompasses Wicker Park, Bucktown and Logan Square — were mailed notices last Friday of their properties' proposed assessed values for 2015 by Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios.
"Taxpayers need to file appeals now when their reassessment notices are received and not wait until the following year when the new values are reflected on Second Installment Tax Bills,” Berrios said in a news release issued Friday.
The assessor's office announced that the median sale price increase in West Township was 34 percent for condos and 12.3 percent for single-family homes and other non-condo residential properties. Many homeowners in Wicker Park and Logan Square are complaining of home value spikes up to 55 percent.
A Logan Square homeowner in the 1700 block of North Washtenaw Avenue, who asked not to be publicly named but shared a copy of his assessment, said, "We didn't expect the assessed value to take such a huge jump."
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The homeowner's three-bedroom condo, which has an assessed value of $425,020 for 2015, was previously estimated to be worth $273,820 in 2012, the last time West Township values were assigned. He purchased it for $417,000 last year.
Estimating a near $3,000 jump in taxes as a result of the 55-percent assessment spike, the homeowner said, "I am lucky enough to be able to handle that, but I am worried about a lot of the elderly folks in the neighborhood who are on fixed incomes, this could be devastating for them."
Exemptions are available for seniors over age 65 who earn less than $55,000 yearly as well as a long-time occupant exemption for households earning $100,000 or less who have lived in their house for 10 years or more. Read about exemptions here.
Revenue from the city's share of property taxes is used for debt payments, pensions for city workers and the Chicago Public Library. The school system and the parks have separate property tax levies.
West Township homeowners face an Aug. 17 deadline to appeal the proposed assessment. Homeowners can compare their assessments with those of similar homes on the assessor's website by typing in their 14-digit Property Index Number (PIN) or an address.
The recent wave of reassessment notices contain proposed values that will be reflected on second-installment tax bills, which will be due in the summer of 2016.
Nick Herro, a condo owner in the 1600 block of West North Avenue in Wicker Park, said his home's assessed value rose by $29,000, or 22 percent.
"Wicker Park seems to be hit significantly/disproportionately, with much of the core neighborhood seeing 20-plus-percent increases in assessed valuations," Herro said.
Gary H. Smith, a property tax lawyer, said, "It is fairly clear that the areas that are the more popular to purchase are where the assessments have increased fairly significantly."
Smith described recent events as "a perfect storm."
"Value is increasing, so taxes increase and this year there is the need; it has increased and it is going to be met this year. It is a perfect storm culmination of the assessment and tax rate increasing at the same time," Smith said, adding, "There is every indication that the tax rate will be significantly increased this year."
Since previous home assessments were tracking the market from 2009 to 2012, Smith said those values represented the bottom of the market.
Smith said anyone who disagrees with their assessment should file an appeal if they think the value is too high; if their property's assessed value is out of line with surrounding properties, or if there are things about the property that would diminish the value, such as damage, lack of easements, or lack of upgrading.
"The assessor is attempting to track the market but it's done on a mass scale. The assessor does not know the individual story of each property," Smith said, and therefore a property's assessment could be divorced from its reality.
William O'Shields, chief deputy commissioner of the Cook County Board of Review, a quasi-judicial independent office that analyzes properties to ensure that taxpayer assessments are fair, said that in 2014, some 87 percent of appeals were filed online, marking one of the highest percentages of online appeals processed by the Board in a single session since online filing was implemented in 2011.
In a news release issued Friday, Berrios touted an easier online process for taxpayers to navigate and stressed that homeowners do not need an attorney to file an appeal.
"I encourage taxpayers to review their notices carefully and to file appeals if they feel their proposed reassessment values are not fair and accurate," Berrios said.
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