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Jeff Ward: LaCure Confirms It—Downtown's 15% Drop in Assessed Value Ain't No Fluke

Part 2: It's not rocket science! A down real estate market means lower assessments! And that means the city has to start making some real budget cuts.

Now that we’ve thoroughly covered the fact the city of , it’s time to move on to their shock and awe over the current .

To briefly digress for purposes of a preemptive self-defense, while City Administrator Mary McKittrick may like to brag about the $4 million Geneva hasn’t spent over the last three years, not spending money you haven’t yet spent, while prudent, isn’t a cut. It’s simply holding the budgetary line.

But let’s get back on track because the irresistible force—rapidly declining property values—is about to meet the immovable object: a city administration that won’t make cuts.

To wit,  to determine why some business district buildings we’re devalued by as much as 35 percent despite the lack of a single property owner protest.

And thus we have the first facet of the municipal mindset in all it’s blazing glory. When it comes to declining tax revenues: "Always be reactive and never proactive."

I’m not nearly the only one who has been regularly sounding the plummeting property tax alarm. I’m not the only one who’s been telling municipal folks that they need to start making fiscal adjustments now, because it’s gonna be that much more painful when they have to do it all at once.

We knew this was going to happen. And we knew it because, despite the gnawing immediacy of the housing bubble burst, property assessments always lag the economy by at least two years.

In November alone, the Chicago area saw a 3.4 percent drop in home values, the steepest decline in the nation, and there’s no indication that that trend is about to change. So the valuation problem is about to get worse!

I also have to disagree with McKittrick’s contention that she asked LaCure for a meeting, because when I asked the assessor if anyone from the city had contacted her regarding 2011 property valuations, she said no.

I also asked, had they made that effort, would the city have been made aware of exactly what was coming? “Yes,” she answered.

Though LaCure made it clear she didn’t want to burn bridges, she also mentioned that, responding to some comments recorded in a Daily Herald story, it was actually LaCure who set up the meeting with city administrators.

And this brings us to the second and far more contemptible aspect of the municipal mindset: “We’re entitled to your money.”

Because in addition to proposing the new fees we discussed Monday, McKittrick referred to the lower property valuations as “curious” and mused as to whether Geneva could challenge those lower assessments.

Thankfully, unlike property owners, municipalities do not have the right to dispute assessments. But the fact that any city administrator would even be willing to consider that possibility is incomprehensible. That’s not how the property tax system is supposed to work!

When your property value goes down, with the intended lag time shock absorber, your assessment should follow!

LaCure also explained the assessor’s office cannot afford to be political because if she threw municipalities a bone by inflating valuations, they would get hammered when property owners challenged them. Apparently, the Board of Review takes a very dim view of overeager assessors and isn’t above teaching them a lesson by lowering an assessment even more.

When I theorized the impetus behind these drastic downtown devaluations was the increasing number of vacancies, lower rents, a depressed real estate market, and competition from the Commons, LaCure responded, “You’re right on track.”

And also according to LaCure, those downtown property owners are pretty savvy when it comes to fighting assessments. But in Mary McKittrick’s world, where the city of Geneva is entitled to your money, you should have to fight your property valuation just to get fairly assessed.

“Property values are not affected by politics,” LaCure said. “They’re affected by rents, vacancies and market conditions. We strive to always come up with a fair and equitable assessment for everyone.”

Lastly, I asked the assessor if, as I suspect, the worst is yet to come.

“It certainly looks that way,” she replied.

Considering our enlightening conversation, I would certainly encourage city administrators to take the time to meet with LaCure, but even that won’t change downtown property assessments.

Since a fiscally conservative mayor wouldn’t consider the possibilities of new fees or a higher property tax levy, the city of Geneva needs to start making some real cuts now, because that other shoe is certainly about to fall.

Rick Anderson February 08, 2012 at 05:05 PM
The perfect storm is about to get even larger if our legislators get their way and kick the un-funded municipal emplolyees and teachers pension problem on to school districts, village halls, and counties (see today's Daily Herald article on front page). It shouldn't be such a "Springfield Surprise" to anyone that they would do this since they stopped funding bus transportation among other customary services. Lower assessed values doesn't mean lower property taxes in Illinois. We haven't seen anything yet fellow citizens. Be sure you know who you are electing and why this primary season.
Martina Natoma February 08, 2012 at 05:46 PM
Thank heavens the Patch has done 100 articles on "Dancing with the Geneva Stars" ignoring our local governing agencies. It's good to live in la la land, Illinois style. I can visualize Mayor Burns and Mary McKittrick standing arm in arm on the bow of a sinking Titanic right now! Kudos to Mr. Ward for his realization that Geneva is "reactive in it's governance." Glad they got that bond refi done now, before the bond rating drops.
Martina Natoma February 08, 2012 at 05:55 PM
This reminds me of the last chapter in the popular new book "Boomerang." Stories about municipalities and local politicians who let greed, self serving politics, destructive union leadership abetted by willing recipients of union gains, destroy the wealth of otherwise perfectly good communities. I just discovered www.genevataxfacts.org, and would recommend that others take a look there as well. We don't want to become another Vallejo CA.
nick February 09, 2012 at 01:41 AM
Maybe you all should be focusing on springfeild. These are the officials we elected to be our voice and to make the right decision. So far the last couple of gov's are doing time, and teh rest of the crooks are enjoyng the lime life. All expenses paid by teh taxpayer, 100 percent paid medical and dental. Monthly car allowences and god knows what else. These crooks get a btter pension then anyone and yet you focus on the little guy? why is it that dennis hasster went into politics an average joe and came out a millionaire? Your tax money is funding all of their crap and they only work half the year and can't even get that right. Quit being so close minded and look at teh big picture. you want to make a change, knwo on teh door in springfeild. They are the ones that took money from municipalities, to pay for thiewr own f-ups. God you people make me sick, its all poor me, well do something about it. hey jeff, you live in a area with association dues, get off yoru lazy ass and go cut the grass in the common area, save yhour peeps some money!! Quit bashing and be constructive!!
Jeff Ward February 09, 2012 at 12:55 PM
Nick, I hate to rain on your parade, but this is Geneva Patch, not Springfield Patch. And actually our association dues which have remained the same for years, are quite reasonable! Jeff

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