When the Village of Niles scheduled a workshop Thursday to help citizens appeal their property tax assessments, no one quite anticipated the throngs that would show up.
The room at the Oasis (Pool) Fun Center is large, yet it was jammed even before the scheduled start time at 7 p.m. At one point, Niles Mayor-elect Andrew Przybylo said organizers had run out of the 300 appeal forms for flood damage and 350 forms for appealing high assessments, apologized, and said more would be available at Niles village hall by 1 p.m. Friday.
80 percent get tax relief if they appeal, assessor says
Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios urged homeowners to appeal their assessments if they had flood damage, or if they felt their assessments were too high. He said 80 percent of those who appeal through his office get some property tax relief.
He took a few questions, including one from a woman who was upset because her neighbors had put on a big addition and yet she was being assessed at the same rate.
"You have to tell us," Berrios replied. "There's no way we can check 1.2 million pieces of residential property in the county. I'm here to help individuals who tell me their assessment is too high, but the law is that if you don't complain your assessment is too high, you're happy."
Soon after that, the assessor asked people to line up to hand in their paper forms to his staff.
Some grateful, some critical
Despite the crowding, Roberto Botello of Maine Township, who had water backup from a storm sewer in his basement at the time of the April floods, said he was grateful the assessor had come out.
"Sometimes it's difficult to make sense (of the forms), so to hear it from them is a relief," he said, adding he believed the floodwaters were damaging to his property values and he hoped the assessor's office would look at it.
Freida Holowicki of Niles said Przybylo came out to their Senior Polka Association group and urged them to attend the workshop. But they had no idea it would be so crowded, she said.
Bob Bell and Carol Bergeron said the organizers should have anticipated that talking about flooding and property taxes would bring out a lot of people, and planned for it.
"If it was just a flood problem, they could have handled it, but with higher assessments at the same time, it was too much," Bell said.
"We thought they'd have more questions and answers," Bergeron said. "We thought we'd get more information about the whole process."
Six feet of water
Erich Arch, who lives near Monroe and Oriole, said he got six feet of water in his basement with the flooding. A neighbor of his, who would only give her name as Liz, said she got several inches of water in her basement, and blamed Chicago's decision not to open the waterway locks until pretty late in the storm.
She said she understood Chicago doesn't want raw sewage in the lake, but, "Everybody floods and they still wind up with sewage in the lake," she said.
George Alpogianis, a village trustee-elect, said he thought the villlage got the message that people are frustrated with property taxes.
More forms Friday, more help Saturday
Mayor Robert Callero said that Assessor's Office staff would be present at Niles village hall Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to assist homeowners in filing appeals.
The village hall's front desk will also accept the appeal forms until Friday, May 17, he said, in time for the assessor's May 20 deadline for Maine Township residents.