DECATUR — Because he qualifies for the Illinois senior freeze on his home’s assessment, Jerry Clark doesn’t have to worry as much as other property owners about his taxes going up.
Even so, the Decatur man filed one of the 1,212 appeals made this year to the Macon County Board of Review and was among 825 who obtained a reduction.
Assessed values, which are one-third of a property’s market value, are used with the amount of money sought by school districts and taxing bodies to calculate property tax bills.
Clark, 74, is pleased with how he was treated, but not all those who appeal are satisfied with their result, even those who had some success.
At least two larger property owners — Tate & Lyle and the Decatur Conference Center and Hotel — are taking their cases to the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board to lower their assessments still more.
“While we recognize the local taxing bodies have revenue needs, we also have a need to keep our costs as low as possible to stay competitive,” said Chris Olsen, Tate & Lyle’s vice president of community and government affairs. “The appeal process is a good way to balance everyone’s interests.”
The company asked the review board to slash the market value on seven of its 18 parcels in Decatur Township by about $17.5 million, presenting an appraisal, comparable sales and an income analysis as evidence, but the board made $11.15 million in reductions to five parcels for a total market value of just under $15 million.
Other large reductions made by the board took the market value of Hickory Point Mall down $6.8 million to $21 million, three Walgreen drug stores down nearly $4.8 million to just under $5.7 million and the Decatur Conference Center and Hotel down about $982,000 to $8.25 million.
None represents the full amount sought by the property owners, but only hotel owner Steve Horve confirmed that he’s appealing to the state.
“It’s a game,” Horve said. “(The county) sets it really high so they can arrive at something in the middle, so you think that’s a victory.”
Katie Reinsmidt, spokeswoman for mall owner, declined comment, and attorney Courtney Harvey said Walgreen Co. has decided not to pursue the matter further this year.
Overall, neither Supervisor of Assessments Daysa Miller nor the Board of Review has changed the total value of locally assessed property significantly since 2009, when the recession hit the Midwest.
This year, the board lowered total market value from where Miller had it by about $60 million, to about $5.6 billion, more than negating her increase of nearly $44 million during Decatur Township’s quadrennial reassessment.
More than three-fourths of the appeals involved residential property, which resulted in a $16.2 million reduction to $3.75 billion. The next largest category of appeals involved commercial property, leading to a $34.4 million decrease to $1.15 billion.
Commercial was one of just two categories Miller increased — setting the initial value $58.4 million higher than she did in 2010, largely because the Illinois Department of Revenue ruled last year that Decatur Memorial Hospital qualifies to be tax-exempt.
County board Chairman Jay Dunn, D-Decatur, established a well-received tax assessment self-help center across the hall from Miller’s office in the Macon County Office Building soon after citizens came to the board’s November meeting to complain about their assessments.
But representatives of the Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corporation of Decatur and Macon County, still appeared before the board Thursday night to call for a task force to improve the system.
“This is a critical issue for the regional economy, as the current process directly and negatively impacts our ability to compete for the creation of, and more importantly in the current economic climate, (retain) quality jobs,” said Chamber President Mirinda Rothrock.
Dunn said he’d like such a group to include himself and the county board’s Finance Committee Chairman Keith Ashby, R-Decatur; county GIS specialist Josh Tanner, who is in line to replace Miller as supervisor of assessments when she retires in a year; Rothrock; and economic development President Craig Coil, as well as representatives of other taxing bodies.
“This will be a good educational experience for a lot of us,” Dunn said.
Landlord Mike Dugan of Decatur was pleased with the outcome of his appeals to the review board on houses he owns in the 2100 block of North Monroe Street and on Evans Court.
On the latter, the board gave him the $19,269 market value he sought, down from $26,565, and on the former, he was satisfied to get $30,417, down from $49,719.
At Dugan’s hearing Jan. 10, Miller told him his son would qualify for a homestead exemption on the Monroe Street house as co-owner and occupant. Then, review board members Ed Leonard and Jeannie Riddle challenged Dugan’s comparable sales for Evans Court as “distressed” transactions with artificially low sale prices, but ultimately relented, based on his lower prospects for rental income.
“Taxpayers who don’t fight it end up paying higher taxes,” Dugan said.
Clark, on the other hand, did sway the board with comparable sales to lower the market value on his house in the 2100 block of Barding Avenue from $149,940 to $127,224.
“I felt the house was worth that, so that’s what I asked for,” he said.
The assessed value upon which his tax bill is actually based, however, is $39,997, or a $119,991 market value, as long as he qualifies for the senior freeze.
This is the second time Clark has successfully lowered his assessment from upward pressure that continues to be exerted from a sunroom he added to the house in 2003, along with the fact that his house is a bit larger than those around him.
Horve finds himself in a similar position, fighting an assessment increase driven in part by updates he made to the public areas of the Decatur Conference Center and Hotel nearly three years ago.
The $6.8 million market value given to the hotel for 2009 and 2010, a value Horve is striving to keep, was a compromise reached in August 2010 as the result of his earlier appeal to the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board.
One homeowner joining Horve in appealing to the state is Dan Barger, who said he didn’t get an answer from the board of review until Jan. 14 after having his hearing Nov. 10, and then got only a small reduction after presenting an appraisal on his home in the 3300 block of East Oakwood Avenue. His market value was set by the board of review at $74,449.
“I asked for around $68,000,” Barger said. “When I called the supervisor of assessments office Dec. 19, I was told to wait until I got my reply, then when I called later, they said the board of review was backlogged.”
Dunn has said publicly that Miller’s office is short-staffed and needs more customer service training.
Miller also said her office sent out final notices on appeals involving property within Decatur Township first, because it was the township’s quadrennial reassessment, and Barger’s property is in Long Creek Township.
Another complainant who has filed with the state appeal board is Pat O’Mara, whose appeal of the assessment on his house south of Decatur Memorial Hospital was the focus of a Dec. 21 article in the Herald & Review about the assessment process.
O’Mara protested an increase in the market value of his home in the 2200 block of North Main Street from $57,300 to $66,084, as well as an increase in the value of the house he owns next door from $47,091 to $55,788.
The board gave him just under $55,000 and $42,882, respectively, but those values are still higher than they were in 2004, and Leonard said during his hearing that housing values have generally gone down since then.
“I don’t want to be a complainer, but if (Leonard) had done what was right, I wouldn’t have to,” O’Mara said.