By Gary H. Smith
Chicago and Cook County Property Tax Appeal Attorney
How do you determine a fair property assessment for a unique industrial structure that hasn’t been in operation for years? Is it possible to come to a determination that is best for the property owner and is acceptable to the local government at the same time?
That’s the challenge put before me recently when my office was contacted by the current owner of a 1.5 million square feet rolling steel manufacturing facility in Downstate Illinois. Once owned by an international company, and once the largest employer in the county, this plant has been shuttered for several years.
These kinds of properties — large industrial facilities — require a special analysis and a working relationship with the local county assessor’s office. Unlike, for example, a small business in a Chicago suburb, it may be nearly impossible to find other comparable properties. As well, the value of an industrial operation that is idle is not easy to determine.
In this case, the current owner had tried, unsuccessfully, to obtain a reduction of what he thought was an excessively high assessment. This is important, of course, because the amount of tax any property owner must pay is largely based on the assessed valuation of the property.
In the end, my office was successful in gaining a significant assessment reduction for this property.
How did we do it?
Our technical analysis is always the crucial element of our appeals, and our property tax philosophy is what made the difference in this case. I have always believed that assessments of commercial and residential properties must stand on a foundation of fairness.
In order to enjoy the benefits of government services — schools, libraries, streets, refuse collection — we know that someone has to pay the bill. My office fights to make sure everyone pays only his or her fair share, and not more.
In the case of this Downstate property, there were several interests:
- The property owner was seeking to reduce his property taxes.
- The county needed to get the highest possible tax payment.
- The local economic development agency was hoping to make the property attractive to a business that might take over the plant and put local people back to work.
None of these goals could have been met if the property owner had engaged in litigation that would have been costly to all.
Other property tax attorneys might have seen this as opportunity to be heavy-handed, a hostile win/loss situation. But that’s not how I look at life.
Considering the interests of all the stakeholders, I worked with and between the parties. Understanding the needs of all the players, I was able to advocate on behalf of my client more effectively.
This approach translated into real dollars saved for my client. My office obtained a property value reduction of more than $7.5 million, cutting the client’s actual tax bill by more than 38 percent, and saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In addition to the benefits enjoyed by my client, it was a win for the county government, too. By settling the assessment appeal in a timely fashion, county leaders were able to manage spending in line with expected tax revenues. If, instead, the reduction was obtained in the future, with retroactive effect, the county would have had to scramble to find funds to pay for expenses that had already incurred.
If you own commercial property — whether in Cook County or elsewhere — that is over-valued or not producing revenue, please contact my office for assistance in appealing your property tax bill.