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Tax bills so soon? Expect yours shortly

Friday, July 21, 2006
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

It’s good news or bad news, depending on your point of view.
The good news is that Cook County tax officials are so on the ball this year, they’ve prepared the property tax rates and will be mailing out bills the week of July 31 — the earliest they’ve done so since 1993. That means Cook County governments will get their money that much sooner this year.
The bad news is, well, that means your tax bill will come due that much sooner: Sept. 1.
Why the speedy service this year? Cook County clerk spokeswoman Kelley Quinn credited the assessor’s office and the Cook County Board of Review, which processes assessment appeals. A spokesman at the assessor’s office said automation streamlining made things easier and faster this year.
“The board of review, the assessor and the clerk worked like dogs,” said Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas.
But, she noted, state statute says bills should fall due by Aug. 1, so technically, Cook County is still a month behind.
So what do all these rates released Thursday tell you in practical terms of what you’ll pay? Well, not a whole heck of a lot, unfortunately. Tax rates are just one part of a formula that determine your tax bill. That million-dollar question (hopefully that’s not a literal figure) will be answered when bills come out, or you can get a guesstimate of your upcoming bill by using the worksheet accompanying this article, along with the new tax rates, which are available at www.dailyherald.com.
In general, though, where tax rates have jumped significantly, homeowners can expect higher bills.
But that can also be misleading. For example, the Suburban Cook County TB Sanitarium District rate jumped a whopping 400 percent.
Calm down. Wipe the coffee off your shirt or blouse. It’s not that bad.
Because the tax rate was already a minuscule .001 percent, that means it’s only going up to the slightly less minuscule .005 percent, for a total levy of about $3 million, said Chinta Strausberg, spokeswoman for Cook County Board President John H. Stroger.
That’s been the district’s normal levy for years, but last year it was reduced to about $150,000 to burn off a surplus, Strausberg said. Soon, the TB District will be eliminated altogether because the legislature passed a bill this spring, which Gov. Rod Blagojevich will sign soon, said a spokesman.
Spread that $3 million out over the 1.7 million pieces of taxed property in Cook County and it doesn’t add up to a hill of beans to the average homeowner’s bill, to paraphrase Humphrey Bogart.
Some rate jumps will mean significant corresponding bill hikes.
But “most big increases, the taxpayers probably already know they’re coming,” said Bill Vaselopulos, director of the Cook County clerk’s tax extension department.
That’s because those same taxpayers usually had to pass a referendum request for those hikes.
For example, the rate hike for the Forest View Fire Protection District near Elk Grove Village is 79.66 percent. But voters likely already know they’ll be paying more because they passed the increase.
So, if a big rate increase can mean a higher bill, then where there’s a big rate decrease, it means a lower bill, right?
Nope. Sorry.
“That does not mean that the tax bills are going down,” said Vaselopulos.
In many cases where rates are decreasing, it’s because the assessments have gone up, meaning there’s a bigger tax base to draw from, so the rate decreases. It’s perfectly possible, for example, to have a high percentage decrease on a tax rate but still end up paying more if the levy has increased.


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