Tammy Wendt: Candidate profile, Cook County Board of Review
Incumbent Republican Dan Patlak of Wheeling faces a challenge from Democrat Tammy Wendt, a Palos Heights attorney, in the race for 1st District commissioner of the Cook County Board of Review, which evaluates property tax appeals.
The Daily Herald recently asked the candidates to answer a series of questions. Here are their replies.
Q. What special knowledge or experience do you have that particularly qualifies you to be on the Board of Review? If you are an incumbent, describe your main contributions. If you are a challenger, what would you bring to the board and what would your priority be?
A. At a time when this county is literally teetering on the edge of a financial collapse, the Board of Review (BOR) needs serious policy changes, and I will advocate for such changes. I have been a practicing attorney for 20 years. I have been in the real estate field for nearly 30 years. I ran a property tax appeals practice for several years, and I am also a licensed real estate broker.
I will bring professionalism and a law degree to the BOR, something my opponent cannot. The BOR is a quasi-judicial office, and the Illinois Supreme Court has held that it is the practice of law to appear before the BOR. Because the Board is often asked to rule on any number of legal issues, including (but not limited to) uniformity in taxation, exemptions, classifications, qualifications in expertise, etc., it only makes sense that the Commissioners have the appropriate legal background to make credible findings.
While two of the commissioners have law degrees, my opponent Dan Patlak does not. Accordingly, because the position requires the ability to interpret statutes and rulings from the Illinois Courts, my legal education and training will provide better insight in the tax appeal process.
Q. How does the Board of Review effectively balance the financial needs of the county with the requests from taxpayers to lower assessments?
A. The Illinois Constitution states there shall be uniformity and fairness in taxation, and the singular purpose of assessments is to ensure a fair distribution of the property tax burden among all property owners. It is in the best interests of the various taxing districts to resolve any excessive assessments at the Board of Review level rather than at the Property Tax Appeal Board or in the Circuit Court.
There are two reasons: First, filing at PTAB or court is a long process that typically takes years to resolve. The result is that taxpayers that have paid an excessive tax are forced to wait 3 to 5 years for a refund that could have been avoided if resolved correctly at the BOR. Second, if resolved correctly at the BOR, then the correction is made without forcing a refund from the taxing district. Any reduction achieved at the BOR level will necessitate a change in tax rate.
On the other hand, if the matter is not fully resolved at the BOR, any further reduction (from PTAB or court) will result in a refund, forcing the schools and taxing districts to issue refunds, cut their budgets and often, staff. The BOR should resolve any appeals so no further action is necessary.
Q. What changes would you propose in the operation of the Board of Review?
A. The feedback I've received from dozens of taxpayers and practitioners voice a common concern of unpredictability and inconsistency. Both want to have a better understanding of BOR policies with respect to uniformity decisions, vacancy issues, and some of the variables involved in the income analyses, which are relevant in valuing most leased commercial properties.
But from conversations I've had with appraisers, the "art" of appraising is really more "science" than art. Like any legal problem, there has to be support for every finding and every opinion, so it seems a request for more information from a taxpayer or practitioner is a reasonable request entitled to a reasonable response. I would train my staff to be responsive in this regard.
I've also heard complaints about the inconsistency and uncertainty in Board policy. The success or failure of any appeal before the BOR shouldn't "hinge" on the "luck of the draw." While no one should expect identical results from every analyst, there should be consistency in policy and reasoning. If vacancy relief is available to anyone, then it should be available to everyone. There shouldn't be a forum shopping scenario.
Q. How do you view the responsibilities of the board and the level of assessments as they apply to commercial and to residential taxpayers? What differences do you see between the two types of taxpayer and how is, or should be, the board of review set up to deal with them appropriately?
A. Each case is unique and must be viewed as such. The circumstances for a commercial landlord are completely different from those of a homeowner. The situation for the owner of a residential house is completely different from that of a residential condo owner in a high-rise building. Fairly assessing the many different types of properties in Cook County must be done on a case-by-case basis. No shortcuts or cookie-cutter methods should be used in trying to determine an equitable value for the taxpayer.
As for the different levels of assessment, there is not much I can do once elected Commissioner. It is state statute that sets the levels of assessment for all Cook County properties. Believe it or not, the current two-level system in place for Cook County (10% for residential and 25% for commercial/industrial) is easier for taxpayers to understand than in the past.
There used to be five or six different levels of assessment applied to properties, depending on the classification.
Q. Describe your position on transparency and customer service at the board of review. How easy and convenient is it for average citizens to appeal their taxes? What, if anything, should be done to improve procedures?
A. My vision for this office is to bring more awareness to the taxpayers about the Board of Review. Most people do not know what the Board of Review does despite its importance. Voters need to be made aware that there are three commissioners at the Board of Review, and those three commissioners can grant all or none of the appeals that come before them. Thus, it is extremely important that voters know who they are electing.
I will also make it easier for homeowners to appeal their taxes by proposing virtual hearings. This will allow for homeowners to forego traveling downtown and waiting hours for a hearing, and allow for them to conduct a hearing via Zoom or another avenue from the safety and security of their own home. With COVID-19 now a part of our reality, virtual hearings are a common-sense approach to preventing exposure to the virus for homeowners.
I will also implement appeal forms be made available to taxpayers in the many different languages spoken in this county. Finally, I would propose disaster relief in light of the current pandemic that has financially ruined so many lives and businesses. I would work with the other two Commissioners on this issue.