Lake County report says consolidating property assessment jobs would save millions

As the annual tax bills make their way to Lake County property owners, one county board member is suggesting a longer term initiative he says would cut costs and save millions of taxpayer dollars.Steve Mandel, Herald photo

Steve Mandel of Highland Park wants to pursue a plan to eliminate the positions of township assessors and consolidate the assessment process at the county level.

“It’s simply an efficiency of government, a reduction of wasteful spending,” Mandel said. “I just want to get a little discussion on the issue,” he added.

Article by Daily Herald Mick Zawislak May 5, 2015  Photo Steve Mandel,  Daily Herald photo

Such a move would require state legislation and is expected to receive a good amount of pushback locally and in the bigger picture.

“Everybody talks about government consolidation but when it comes to looking at it in your own backyard, people are afraid to vote for it,” state Sen. Melinda Bush said.

The Grayslake Democrat said she introduced a bill that would have allowed counties to ask voters whether they wanted to consolidate the assessment function, but it quickly generated 494 “slips” or notices of opposition and it never made it out of committee.

State Rep. Ed Sullivan Jr., a Republican from Mundelein, said the idea should be given a fair hearing. Sullivan also has served for many years as Fremont Township assessor. He said he donates his salary from that job to charity when he in Springfield conducting state business, but realizes the change could cost him the position.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to it if, in fact, this is the best way to do it,” he said.

Mandel said he has been considering the consolidation idea for two years and has details he contends will make his case.

“It’s a political hurdle on two levels. One is the politics in Lake County. The other is the politics in Illinois,” he said. “The facts are clear: this is a great example for us to reduce the cost of government.”

Last year, Mandel brought the idea to the county board’s revenue, records and legislation committee, and county staff was tasked to compile a report to find the “best practices” in the assessment process. The study had several goals, including improving accuracy and achieving the “highest quality” of customer service.

The report found the eight U.S. counties that received the highest certification of excellence had a centralized system. Lake County’s system is considered to be decentralized as 18 assessors in their respective townships determine the value of 267,000 taxable parcels.

Forty-two staff members would be cut in a consolidation and an estimated $4.4 million would be saved in overall countywide costs, according to the report.

That saving assumes the taxing authority for township assessments would have to be reduced and transferred to the county. That would require changes in state law.

The report has been shared with all township assessors and is percolating among county leaders.

“It’s very early in the discussion. What’s really important is we engage all of our stakeholders and talk this through,” Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor said.

Avon Township Assessor Chris Ditton, for example, said he is assessing properties for less than the amount noted in the report for a centralized county office, meaning it would not equate to a tax saving measure there.

Mandel said meetings are being scheduled with townships and assessors to get feedback and to verify facts and data. Details such as whether there would be satellite offices are among many considerations.

“I think the outcome is very achievable, but the devil is in the details. That’s what we have to be clear on,” Mandel said.

Bush agreed many aspects would have to be determined.

“It also has to be about whether it works,” she said. “Sometimes you can save money and create a disaster.”

Article by:  @dhmickzawislak

Original Article:  Lake County Daily Herald: http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20150507/news/150508955/