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Cook County plans to mail its property tax bills earlier

Friday, July 21, 2006
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Cook County taxpayers should be getting their bills earlier than at any time in the last 12 years, and for south suburban homeowners, it will be their first experience with the 7 percent assessment cap.

Property tax bills are scheduled to go out the week of July 31 and bear a Sept. 1 due date. The last time second-installment bills were due this early was 1994, said County Treasurer Maria Pappas.
County agencies made a concerted effort to finish the appeals process so the bills could go out sooner because taxing bodies raised concerns in the past about receiving the revenue late.

"If they have to wait until December you hurt them," said Pappas, noting that state law calls for the bills to be due Aug. 1, a date that hasn't been met in years. "They plan around when they're going to get the money."

As for taxpayers, Pappas said no one likes to receive the bill, but at least this year it won't come during the holidays.

"We get calls when the bills come in December and they're angry because it's close to Christmas," Pappas said.

The property tax bills can go in the mail now that County Clerk David Orr's office has finished computing the tax rates for the more than 1,200 agencies in the county, the final piece in a complex formula for determining the amount owed.

Orr's office released the tax rates Thursday and posted them on the office's Web site (www.cookctyclerk.com).

The property tax bills, the second installment for the year, reflect the changes in the 2005 bill ( Cook County taxes are paid one year in arrears). The first installment, which was due March 1, was one-half of last year's bill.

This is the first year south and west suburban taxpayers will see the effects of the 7 percent assessment cap, which was designed to cushion the tax blow after their properties are reassessed.

Assessment increases for residential properties in that area ranged from 21.75 percent in Thornton Township to 46.75 percent in Cicero Township.

Cook County Assessor James Houlihan's office plans to analyze the effect the cap has on the tax bills of homestead-eligible properties in those suburbs.

In analyzing three communities, the assessor's office found that as a result of the law, tax bills this year will drop for 56 percent of the homeowners in Harvey, 63 percent of the homeowners in Palos Heights and 28 percent of the homeowners in Oak Park.

The impact of the 7 percent cap varies by location, value of a property and the percentage change in the assessment.

Critics note that the law shifts the tax burden from homeowners to other taxpayers, notably businesses.

They also contend that it will not benefit to the same degree the south suburbs, where tax bases are generally less robust and not growing at the rate they are in the city and other parts of the county.

In Chicago, the general tax rate dropped to 5.981 percent from slightly more than 6.273 percent the previous year.

As a result, a typical homeowner in the city will likely see a property tax bill increase of $50 to $150, according to the clerk's office.

The 7 percent assessment cap has made it more difficult for individual homeowners to compute their bills in advance because the standard $5,000 exemption in many cases does not apply. For many homeowners, the exemption is much greater--up to $20,000--because the assessed value of their property has increased.

By the time the tax bills arrive, the assessor's office plans to have a calculator on its Web site (www.cookcountyassessor.com) so taxpayers can see how the law affects their bills.

- - -

On the Web

Cook County taxpayers can expect to receive their second-installment property tax bills the week of July 31. Payment will be due Sept. 1.

The county assessor's office plans to have a calculator to help taxpayers understand their bill posted online by the time the bills arrive. The office's Web site is www.cookcountyassessor.com.



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