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Harrisburg man says state decision should streamline property tax assessment

updated: 11/15/2017 7:41 AM

HARRISBURG -- A Harrisburg man who helped his daughter contest the property tax assessment on her home says the decision of a state appeals board should change the way properties are assessed.

The Saline County tax assessor's office, meanwhile, says there is much more to the process.

Rod Wallace, a longtime equipment manufacturer, has maintained for a number of years that taxes in Illinois are prohibitive to economic growth. He takes particular issue with the way property taxes are assessed, especially in Saline County.

When his daughter purchased a house in 2011, and then received her tax bill the following year, Wallace said she felt it was too high. She had paid about $80,000 for the home, but the county said the fair market value was $102,500. Saline County taxes at the assessed valuation, or 33 1/3 percent, of a property's fair market value.

The county's number for fair market value was too high in this case, Wallace said.

"It was north of $20,000 more than what she paid," Wallace said.

Saline County's chief assessment officer, Sheryl Pearce, said when the county determines fair market value for a home, it uses the sale of comparable properties as part of making the determination.

"The township tax assessor will use other properties that have sold that are as similar as possible as a starting point," Pearce said.

She said then the fair market value will either be increased or decreased depending on whether additional features are present.

In the case of Wallace's daughter, Sarah Scott, Wallace said that starting point was too much.

They started the appeals process and were unsuccessful initially, he said.

Finally in September of 2015, the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board handed down its final administrative decision, agreeing with Scott's argument. That argument was that because the sale was not between related parties and the property was advertised for sale that the sale price itself was proof of the fair market value.

Two comparable properties the county submitted as evidence that the value should be higher actually caused the state board, or PTAB, to decide in Scott's favor, according to the decision. The decision also reaffirmed the sale price of a house under normal circumstances to be the same as its fair market value.

"The Illinois Supreme Court has defined fair cash value as what the property would bring at a voluntary sale where the owner is ready, willing, and able to sell but not compelled to do so, and the buyer is ready, willing and able to buy but not forced to do so," the decision reads, in part.

Pearce, though, said in the case of Scott's house, the assessment had not changed since 2009. The previous owners had paid a lesser amount in taxes because they were over age 65 and received the Homestead Exemption.

She also said that with about 22,000 taxable properties in the county, there is always a chance an assessment is not right.

"We depend on our township tax assessors," she said. "They are the ones who make the initial determination."

The appeals process exists because sometimes the assessment is not right, she said.

"We do not have a practical way of knowing whether an assessment is too high," Pearce said. "That's how we find out, if someone comes to us."

Generally, she said, the sale of comparable properties is considered by the state an acceptable means for determining fair market value. As chief tax assessor, Pearce must maintain a high level of continuing education hours devoted to changes in property taxation to remain qualified for the position. She will have worked in the tax assessor's office for 37 years this December, which also will mark her eighth year as chief tax assessment officer.

The continual training and education is necessary to ensure that taxpayers aren't paying too much as tax laws change, she said.

"We encourage anyone who thinks their property tax bill is too high to come to this office and look at their property tax card," Pearce said. "We're more than happy to go over it with them."

That office's phone number is (618) 252-0691.