Cook County property owners make up nearly 84% of the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board's case backlog.
That's according to an analysis by the The Civic Federation, a Chicago-based nonpartisan government research organization, of the more than 62,000 lingering PTAB cases that date back more than 14 years in some instances.
The Civic Federation cited the appeal board's antiquated technology and suggested several reforms officials there believe would expedite the resolution of the backlog without increasing the agency's budget.
"We are calling for the modernization of PTAB," said Laurence Msall, The Civic Federation's president. "There are many things this body could do in terms of case management that would speed up the process for those appealing."
Mauro Glorioso, PTAB's executive director, said his agency was suffering from being "understaffed and overworked."
"Everything sounds good in theory," Glorioso said of the Civic Federation report, "but in practice we've been trying for years to get more resources."
However, Msall believes procedural changes to the appeal process could result in quicker resolutions without any increase in expense. The report suggests PTAB enact case management for larger appeals, change rules regarding extensions, simplify documentation requirements for residential cases and empower the agency's administrative law judges to move cases to a resolution.
"PTAB needs to get its house in order and address the untenable situation that exists before the legislature gives them more money," Msall said. "Doing the same thing with more people isn't going to address the problem."
Msall chided the agency for still not having a functioning system that allowed petitioners to submit electronic appeals. Glorioso acknowledged the agency employs multiple people to scan paper copies into electronic format.
"We have attempted to implement electronic filing," Glorioso said. "But every time we try it, there's myriad things that need to be done to get it to work right."
PTAB is one of the last options for property owners who are unsatisfied with assessment decisions by county and township assessors or county boards of review. The other option is taking the property tax officials to court.
Cook County's unresolved cases are so plentiful because parcels are assessed differently than anywhere else in the state, experts said. And, property owners are advised by elected officials to always appeal their assessments, which increases the workload. The Civic Federation report shows that roughly 33% of the state's parcels are in Cook County, but nearly all of PTAB's caseload comes from there.
"It's a significant amount of cases and a significant amount of dollars," Msall said.
If property owners win their appeals at PTAB, local governments must repay the property owners with interest, officials said. For some commercial property appeals, PTAB decisions are worth millions of dollars.
In recent years, PTAB has enlisted Cook County Board of Review staff to whittle down the residential case backlog through a special project between the agencies. Glorioso said it's helped somewhat.
"I can't wait to see the day when this backlog starts receding," he said.