SPRINGFIELD -- In a state budget with few bright spots, count the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board as a potential winner.
Under the proposed spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1, the board could see a significant boost in money to help reduce a growing backlog of cases.
That would be good news for people like Richard Kramer, who has been waiting months to find out if his property tax assessment will be reduced.
"I began this process back in January. When I called over to the board to find out what was going on with my case in the first week of June, the lady said it could be a long, long time," said Kramer, a retired Decatur resident.
Local assessors say appeals often take over a year to work their way through the system.
The clock is ticking on Gov. Pat Quinn to sign the spending plan sent to him by lawmakers at the end of May. With the new fiscal year beginning July 1, the governor is expected to take action on the outline Thursday.
Under the budget plan, the Property Tax Appeal Board would see its budget jump from $2.8 million in 2009 to more than $4.4 million this year. That could help the agency hire 13 additional employees to help process appeals like Kramer's.
The agency has been scrambling since 2004 when former Gov. Rod Blagojevich oversaw a reduction in the agency's budget that meant headcount dropped from 53 in 2003 down to 26 the next year. The number of workers has been as low as 18 in recent months.
At the same time, the bursting of the housing bubble triggered a surge in the number of people filing appeals as their house values have dropped, but not their tax assessments.
The number of cases filed between 2009 and 2010 jumped 27 percent to more than 31,000, according to Louis Apostol, executive director of the appeals board.
He said the board has been able to close an average of 22,000 cases a year for the past three years because of an increased use of automation, but the increase in new cases has pushed the number of pending cases up by more than 24 percent.
He said there are a number of factors that affect how long a case takes to resolve, ranging from the number of outside groups that intervene in a appeal to the number of attorneys involved in the appeal. Having fewer staffers also has played a role.
But, he added, "Some cases just take a long time."
Kramer said he hopes to additional workers are hired quickly so his case can be resolved.
"I'm not asking for a monumental change. I just want them to keep my assessment at the same level. We'll see what happens," Kramer said.