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Cook County Assessment Appeals Caused Backlog at PTAB and Spike in Refunds According to New Report

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June 25, 2019

By Scott Metcalf and Amanda Mehr* 

Recently, The Civic Federation, a government research organization, released a report of the Property Tax Appeal Board that details the history of the PTAB backlog of appeals, extrapolates data from the last fifteen years, and provides several recommendations for how to reduce the backlog.

The Civic Federation attributes the backlog to historical and procedural factors. For example, PTAB handles all large cases similarly despite significant differences in the size or complexity of the case.  The Report also notes the excessive use of extensions as well as a lack of electronic filing systems. However, The Civic Federation report does recognize that PTAB has introduced procedures designed to increase the number of settlements, thereby reducing the backlog.

Although in recent years the number of appeals closed each year has increased, the number of appeals submitted has increased even faster, resulting in the current backlog. The number of new appeals filed was relatively stable form 2004-2008 and increased steadily from 2008 to 2014, predominantly in Cook County. The report attributes this substantial increase to the 2007-2008 property market crash.

Due to the increase in appeals over time and therefore the increased amount of closed appeals, there has been an increase in the total amount of refund payments. Refunds spiked in 2017 when taxing bodies paid 38,035 refunds totaling $133,749,250 as opposed to the prior year, when taxing bodies paid 17,383 refunds totaling $72,204,725. The Civic Federation’s report attributes this increase to the increase in the number of appeals made as well as the number of cases closed and not an increase in the amount refunded for individual appeals. The data shows that the median refund amount has been relatively flat and the average refund amount has actually gone down. In 2018 taxing bodies paid 33,154 refunds totaling $117,788,535.

The PTAB backlog is essentially a Cook County backlog, despite that fact that appeals are submitted for properties throughout the state. This is because Cook County contains 1.8 million parcels, or nearly one-third, of the 5.8 million statewide. In June 2015, a residential case in Cook County was backlogged for four years while cases from other counties were around three years. Similarly, a commercial property in Cook County was backlogged for four to five years while cases from other counties were only around one year.

The Civic Federation report recommends making procedural and rule changes to alleviate the PTAB backlog such as pursuing different courses of action for residential and commercial cases based on the level of complexity, utilizing case management strategies, and implementing an electronic filing system. In order to hold PTAB accountable to making these changes, the report suggests increasing PTAB’s budget and staff only if the changes are implemented. If any of these changes are implemented, we will provide you with an update.

*Amanda Mehr is currently a law student at Chicago-Kent College of Law and is a Franczek LEADS Fellow.

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