Sunday, December 21, 2014

How to be a popular alderman, improve services and innovate

Assist constituents in appealing property tax assessments.

This is based on the program Ali ElSaffar, Oak Park Township Assessor.

The thirty townships in Cook County each have a Township Assessor. The Cook County Assessor assesses values of properties throughout Cook County. The duties of the township assessors are to help property owners understand and navigate the assessment process if there are hiccups. Also to help with filing exemptions and the like.

The township assessors can assist property owners in appealing property tax assessments. How aggressive the individual assessor wants to be is up to her or him.

By purchasing a specialized piece of software (ElSaffar helped design early versions of the program over a decade ago). The software makes it easy to sort through the Cook County Assessor's database to find the best cases for arguing that a property's assessment should be reduced.

This is the same thing the property tax appeal services do. But instead of forking over hundreds of dollars to a private service, the Oak Park Township Assessor provides this service for free.

Any alderman who wanted to buy the software & hire/train people to use it could provide this service.

Thanks to Joe Berrios firing the professional staff at the Cook County Assessor's office to make room for his family & friends program, there are a few experts floating around. The software isn't hard to use. Anybody reasonably intelligent and not scared of computers or numbers should be able to learn the basics in a couple hours. (Condo appeals are more complicated.)

I have worked for Oak Park Township as a deputy assessor a number of times going back to 2002. There are a number of positive things about helping property owners appeal their assessments.

  1. It's a chance to do something for constituents and also to interact with them. It broadens the pool of people you will be interacting with as the alderman.
  2. People appreciate seeing how their property compares to other properties. A little bit of explanation goes a long way toward giving them an understanding of how property taxes work.
  3. Some of the people are financially stressed by property taxes. The solution to their problems is almost never tinkering with their assessment. But it's an opportunity to get them to the social services they need.

How popular will a program like this make an alderman?

In 2013 ElSaffar stood for re-election in Oak Park (unopposed). These were the candidates who ran unopposed and the number of votes they got:

ElSaffar 6278
Powell 6053
Boulanger 5611
Whte, Gregory 5533
Barber 5511
Ade 5433
Lueck 5385
Brewer 5348
Felton 5314
Lentz 5214
Gates 5128
Cozzens 5055
Taglia 4994
Keenan 4987
Brisben 4952
Wick 4940

If you want to be popular with constituents, help them with their property tax assessment appeals.

And, yes, there are aldermen who bring the Board of Review to the ward and assessment reductions are given to the squeaky wheels.

But people like being able to sit down with someone who can explain the whole process.

Ald. Joe Moore brought the idea of participatory budgeting to Chicago and it has spread. I want to help good aldermen bring property tax assessment appeals to ward offices. The aldermen who do this will become more popular.

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