Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sustainability and Property Assessments

If you can't afford to live in a place due to ever-increasing property taxes, it's not an economically sustainable situation.

So that's why I helped to form a non-profit group called It came about because some of the smartest people I knew couldn't figure out how their home assessments (the core for property tax valuations) were calculated. We've been appealing our assessments for years with meager results. This year we decided to organize into a group that will lobby for change. Our first public seminar was last night. Here's an account of it.

About 250 people showed up last night at our community center to hear Mark Biersdorf's excellent tips on how to successfully appeal assessments (now posted on Thanks to all who helped organized our first annual event, particularly Dick Hosteny, Steve Minsky, Thor Madsen, Bryce Carus and Stan Rosenberg (Jim Horine provided "security"). You'll be seeing more about it in the papers and on our website. We're also hoping to post a video of the meeting on Youtube.

The gathering confirmed the findings in our white paper that 1) the assessment system is opaque, arbitrary, inconsistent and unfair, 2) it's a county and possibly statewide problem, 3) our elected representatives can not only take action, there are several remedies available.

When we finished our white paper, we circulated it widely, making sure that every assessor, county board member and state representative got a copy. I'm not sure how many read it, but it got an instant response. After our presentation and press conference in July, it triggered a series of meetings between our allies Larry Leafblad and Terese Douglass with the country administration. Modest changes were made to the county assessor's website, so that more information is available. But we don't regard that as a victory. If anything, our humble effort was a faint echo in the halls of power.

Our Goals

• We'd like to see homeowners informed on exactly how their assessments are calculated -- and in plain English. That's not the case today.
• We're demanding a transparent system where you know how many and which properties are used to figure assessment increases or decreases.
• We want to know what formulas they used and if they are statistically significant.
• The system is stacked against homeowners, so we'd like to know all of the assessors' methods so that we have a fair chance of appealing our assessments.
• Last of all -- and this is what makes democracy sing an enduring song -- is accountability. We'd like to see an audit of assessment practices and oversight over their work.

We are a non-partisan, non-profit citizen advocacy group. That means we lobby for you and don't support specific candidates. We will be tackling numerous public-interest issues in the future, but we will need your help. You can help yourself in two ways: Through your time or a donation.

While you can't deduct your donation (due to our IRS designation as a 501(c)4 corp.), we will tell you how we are going to spend it. We’ve racked up some bills to do the white paper and we hope to go forward. We need to cover expenses incurred in our non-profit registration (still in progress), printing and other services.

If you choose to donate, please send it to Frank Mynard, treasurer, Citizens Action Project, PO Box 932, Grayslake, IL 60030. We know it's a tough time to be asking for money, but we'd like to pay our bills, which are mounting.

As for your time, you can either volunteer -- all of our directors and officers currently donate their time -- or become a citizen lobbyist. We have some form letters on our website so that you can contact county and state officials. Let them know how you feel. We have some suggestions for changes. Keep watching our website for news and future developments. We are hoping to do a fundraiser this winter featuring a compelling keynoter and will hold a contest for children to design our logo.

You can also appeal your assessments and help your own cause. We are also providing a one-page sheet prepared by Mark Biersdorf to help you do that (

Self-help is the core of citizen action and I urge all of you to show our officials that you won't stand for injustice and bad government. They work for us and it's up to us to keep them focused on our interest.

In the words of the patriot Thomas Paine (caps from the original pamphlet):

"Society in every state is a blessing, but GOVERNMENT, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil, in its worst state, an intolerable one, for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a GOVERNMENT, which we might expect in a country WITHOUT GOVERNMENT, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer."

-- Common Sense, Feb. 14, 1776

If you have a problem with figuring out your assessment -- it seems to be a nationwide problem -- contact your state representative and demand change. Nobody can afford to live in a community where property taxes are unfettered by economic reality. It's part of the sustainability dictum. The root word for economics and ecology is the same: oikos, which is Greek for household. If we can't afford our homes (or the taxes on them), we have to go elsewhere. That's not right. You can change things.

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