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Overtaxed homeowner needs 'circuit-breaker'

Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Chicago Sun-Times
by Stefano Esposito

It's been a rough year for 57-year-old Lida Ryndyk.

In March, the Jefferson Park woman's long-ailing 87-year-old mother died.

Because she has difficulty standing, Ryndyk, who is a trainer at a downtown health club, said she's been able to work only part-time. She needs a knee operation, which she can't afford.

And then Ryndyk's Cook County property tax bill arrived in October. It was $800 more than the previous six-month installment.

"I was ready to cry," Ryndyk said.

She could, she said, use a break.

The Cook County assessor's office wants to offer just that for people like Ryndyk who are having a hard time making ends meet these days. The "circuit-breaker" fund that Assessor James Houlihan is proposing would qualify homeowners whose tax bills are more than 5 percent of their income for up to $700 in tax relief on this year's bills.

"The assessor proposed the circuit-breaker because he saw homeowners were hurting, and they were hurting because of a convergence of factors: a sharp increase in property tax bills, the collapse of the housing market and the decline of the overall economy," said Eric Herman, a spokesman for the assessor.

Here's an example of how the proposal would work: If your gross annual household income is $60,000 and your annual property taxes were $3,500 for 2007 -- or $500 more than 5 percent of your income -- you'd be eligible for a $500 grant.

As proposed, the grant would be available to all income levels. The cost of the program would be shared between the county, the city and suburbs.

The proposal, sponsored by Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool, must go before the County Board and would also need to be approved by individual municipalities for homeowners in those cities to participate.

Ryndyk would likely qualify for the maximum $700 because her monthly income is under $400 a month and her last property-tax bill was about $2,200. She said the relief couldn't come soon enough, that she's already dipped into her retirement savings to pay her bills and doesn't know where she'll find the cash for her now-overdue property taxes.

"Right now," she said, "I'm just making it from day to day."

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