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County officials push for renewal of assessment cap

Thursday, February 02, 2006
Pioneer Press
by KAREN BERKOWITZ

Legislators had barely kicked off the 2006 session of the Illinois General Assembly than Cook County officials were pressing for renewal of the 7 percent assessment cap that has spared homeowners from the full sting of huge property tax increases in a single year.

Cook County Assessor James Houlihan and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley both urged the legislature to make the cap permanent during a press conference that coincided with the session's opening Jan. 11.

If the cap expires this year, homeowners in Evanston and other north and northwest suburbs will be hit with a double whammy on their 2007 tax bills. That's because assessments would bolt upward to pick up whatever increase remained from the 2004 revaluation, as well as the full increase assigned the property in 2007.

"You are going to have the natural growth, and the delayed growth, and it's going to be substantial," said Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-13th, of Evanston.

The "7 percent cap" has limited the increase in a property's taxable value to 7 percent a year, or roughly 22.5 percent during the three-year cycle between reassessments. The limit is achieved through an expanded homeowner exemption that varies for each property.

In practice, the assessment cap not only has blunted homeowners' tax hikes, but also actually lowered property tax bills for many taxpayers during the first year following the reassessment.

A study released by the Cook County Assessor's Office last fall showed that 56 percent of homeowners throughout the reassessed north and northwest suburbs received lower 2004 tax bills in September. In Evanston, the figure was 55 percent. (See chart.)

Seeking to lift ceiling

Houlihan also will urge Illinois lawmakers to lift the ceiling that was put on the size of the homeowners' exemption -- a limit that prevented some suburban homeowners from fully benefiting from the 7 percent cap. The original law put a $20,000 ceiling on the exemption.

"We'd like to see (the limit) removed altogether or at least raised, but that is something that will be worked on during the legislative process," said Michelle Kucera, spokeswoman for Houlihan.

Officials are predicting a hard-fought battle over the renewal amendment, which is now contained in Senate Bill 700 sponsored by State Sen. Terry Link, D-30th.

While the original law allowed all 102 counties in Illinois to opt in, no counties outside Cook County implemented the legislation.

"Now, Downstate members have to consider, is this a benefit only for Cook County and not for our own citizens?" said Suffredin. "I am optimistic this will happen, but it will be part of the horse trading."



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