If you own a home in Riverside Township and did a double take when you saw that your property taxes had gone up by more than $1,000, you are not alone.
According to data released last month by the Cook County Treasurer’s Office, there were 1,713 out of 5,863 total residential properties – nearly 30 percent — in Riverside Township, which includes most of Riverside and parts of North Riverside and Brookfield, where taxes increased between $1,000 and $2,500 for tax year 2020 compared to 2019.
Another 807 residential properties in Riverside Township saw their taxes increase between $500 and $1,000, according to the treasurer’s office, and 570 residential properties saw increases of between $2,500 and $5,000.
Some 70.5 percent of all residential properties in Riverside Township saw a tax increase year over year, according to the treasurer’s office, with about 29 percent seeing a decrease and less than 1 percent seeing no change at all.
“I’ve never seen this big of an increase for residential properties in such a wide range,” said Riverside Township Assessor Fran Sitkiewicz. “The typical property tax bill in Riverside was at least a $2,000 increase. Most of the homes in Riverside and our part of North Riverside are under 2,200 square feet, and they got hit the hardest.”
Because Riverside Township is rather small and because most of the township’s commercial property base is located in North Riverside – properties which help fund Riverside schools – data also released last month by the Cook County Assessor’s Office may help explain why Riverside and North Riverside homeowners saw such big increases.
According to the Cook County Assessor’s new property tax dashboard (cookcountyassessor.com/township-av-2020), the property tax burden in 2020 shifted in Riverside Township, negatively impacting residential properties due to reductions in commercial property assessments on a handful of the largest commercial properties in the township.
“I’m really shocked by just how much five or six properties [having their assessments dramatically reduced] really impacted residential homeowners,” Sitkiewicz said.
While the Cook County Treasurer’s Office released a report in August stating that 2020 property increases hit commercial property owners the hardest, that wasn’t the case everywhere, as the Cook County Assessor’s dashboard shows.
In tax year 2019 in Riverside Township, commercial properties represented 24 percent of total assessed valuation, while residential properties accounted for 76 percent. For tax year 2020, the Cook County Assessor attempted to take some of that burden off of residential property owners.
After the assessor made its valuations, commercial properties would have represented 28 percent of total assessed value in Riverside Township, with residential properties representing 72 percent.
But during the property tax appeals process, the Cook County Board of Review reduced the combined assessed value of commercial properties in Riverside Township to 21 percent of the total, a 7-percent reduction from the Cook County Assessor’s valuation and a 3-percent decrease from 2019 total assessed value.
That, in turn, shifted the property tax burden onto those owning residential properties, which now represent 79 percent of total assessed value in Riverside Township, a 3-percent increase compared to 2019.
Municipal level data obtained by the Landmark from the Cook County Assessor shows how that shift impacted North Riverside residential property owners in particular.
In 2020, the Cook County Assessor called for increasing the total assessed values of residential properties to about $53.5 million from 2019’s valuation of $50.6 million, a roughly 5.8 percent increase.
After the Cook County Board of Review’s appeals process, total assessed value of residential properties in North Riverside was set at $53 million, pretty much in line with the assessor’s valuation.
That was not the case when it came to commercial property valuation. For 2020, the Cook County Assessor valued all commercial properties at $66.2 million, up from the 2019 valuation of $49.5 million, which would have amounted to a 33.7 percent increase in total assessed value.
After the Board of Review process, the value of all commercial properties in North Riverside was set at $43.8 million. That was not only $23 million less than the assessor’s valuation, but an almost $6 million reduction from the 2019 total assessed value of commercial properties.
Had the assessor’s figures been used, commercial properties would have represented 55 percent of total assessed value in North Riverside. After the Board of Review’s process, the situation completely flipped, with residential properties representing 55 percent of total assessed value.
What’s more, in 2019 residential properties in North Riverside represented 51 percent of total assessed value, meaning 4-percent more of the tax burden shifted onto residential property owners in 2020.
Who benefited the most? Some of the biggest commercial property owners in North Riverside.
North Riverside Park Mall, which is owned by The Feil Organization, saw its property tax bill fall by nearly 40 percent, from nearly $4.8 million in 2019 to about $2.9 million in 2020.
While the Cook County Assessor set the property’s assessed value at about $19.3 million in 2020, the Board of Review reduced that valuation by 51 percent to about $9.4 million.
The mall ownership had been under threat of foreclosure prior to a new agreement with its lender this spring, and property appraisals recently had dropped the mall’s market value dramatically, which likely explains the Board of Review’s decision. As recently as 2017, according to information on the Cook County Assessor’s website, North Riverside Park Mall had an assessed value of around $16 million.
J.C. Penney, which is owned separately from the mall, saw its property tax bill fall by nearly 15 percent from 2019 to 2020, while the North Riverside Plaza, the shopping center at Harlem Avenue and Cermak Road, saw its property tax bill decline by 11 percent – a figure amounting to $239,000 — year over year.
In both cases, the Board of Review dramatically reduced the Cook County Assessor’s 2020 valuation upon appeal. In the case of J.C. Penney, the Board of Review reduced the assessor’s valuation value by 44 percent, and reduced the assessor’s valuation of the North Riverside Plaza by 41 percent.
Because most of Brookfield is part of two very large townships with far-flung commercial districts – most of them not in Brookfield – it’s a bit more difficult to easily identify individual properties that saw large increases or decreases in assessed valuation in 2020.
Many Brookfield homeowners lately would have seen tax increases due to recently passed referendums to fund school operations in Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95 and LaGrange-Brookfield School District 102.
But, according to the Cook County Assessor’s Office, the actual share of total assessed value between residential and commercial properties from 2019 to 2020 in Brookfield did not change.
Residential properties represent 90 percent of Brookfield’s total assessed value, according to the assessor’s office, while commercial properties represent 10 percent. That split was determined after the Cook County Board of Review adjusted assessed values based on property tax appeals.
The Cook County Assessor had determined the assessed value of commercial properties in Brookfield for tax year 2020 at about $21.4 million, which would have amounted to a 32.4 percent increase in assessed value.
That would have increased the overall tax burden on commercial properties by 2 percent, while reducing that burden by the same amount on residential properties.
But in handling appeals, the Cook County Board of Review ratcheted commercial property valuation down to $17.6 million, an increase of just under 9 percent.
Meanwhile, the assessed value of residential properties after the Cook County Board of Review’s appeals process rose from about $146.6 million to $153.4 million, an overall increase of 4.6 percent.
Sitkiewicz advised that homeowners make a habit of appealing their property assessments, particularly in reassessment years like 2020, during which all three villages were reassessed.
“And with the first installment next year coming next March, people are going to get hit twice,” Sitkiewicz said. “People should always be appealing to the Board of Review.”