The role of a township assessor in Cook County is important but sometimes confusing because we do not assess property. In Cook County, all assessments are done at the county level. If we don’t assess, why are we called “assessors?” Cook County Board of Review Commissioners and Cook County Commissioners often refer to us as “taxpayer advocates.” This is a good description, but it also points to a distinction between us and other township assessors: We have no stake in what the county says a property’s assessed value is.
Cook County township assessors have the same qualifications as township assessors in the rest of Illinois who do assess (the Property Tax Code designates us as deputy assessors of the Cook County Assessor; ILCS 200/2-55). We are CIAOs (or an equivalent), and we adhere to continuing education requirements for Illinois CIAOs.
There are other similarities between us and other township assessors: We help property owners apply for exemptions; we answer questions about tax bills (including verifying exemption information), and process property-related permits that range from a new fence to a new building. We answer questions from our constituents as well as we can, and if we don’t know the answer, we try to find someone who does. The keyword is “help.” Cook County township assessors often tell residents “We work for you.”
In our role as taxpayer advocates, we are careful to tell residents that we cannot guarantee success with their requests to the Cook County Assessor’s Office about their property, nor can we make any changes ourselves. While this has been the structure of township offices in Cook County for more than a hundred years, many residents are still surprised to learn we, as township assessors, do not have the authority to make changes in their assessments. The best thing we can do is help people navigate the labyrinth that is assessments in Cook County.
The County Assessor’s office is not the only place residents can look to for relief. Enter the Cook County Board of Review, which states that its responsibility is to “restore equity.” In advocating for residents at the board of review, we do in-depth analyses for their appeal filings because board of review analysts will take our submissions into consideration with other evidence submitted.
The fact that Cook County is so large (5.173 million residents per the 2020 census and more than an estimated 1,800,000 parcels of real estate) makes a difference. For instance, 2019 was the last general assessment for DuPage County, the second most populous county in Illinois. Just over 11,000 complaints were filed at the DuPage Board of Review. 2019 was also a reassessment year for my township, which has about 22,000 parcels. Over 12,000 complaints were filed by property owners in my township at the Cook County Board of Review (Note: This is complaints from all sources, not just ones filed by my office).
As you can see, a lot of what we do is to educate property owners about “what the county does” concerning assessments and tax bills and what we as township assessors can do to advocate for them and provide help. Whether it is in our township offices or speaking at real estate offices, Rotary Clubs, senior centers, and other community organizations, we are here for our residents.
This is what we do. We assist. We educate. We sympathize. We tell our property owners what we cannot do. We communicate. We do just what other township assessors in Illinois do.
Jan Churchwell is the New Trier Township Assessor.