County must reform property tax system
Thursday, February 11, 2010
by Sun Times editorial staff
The good news is that Cook County homeowners may have to pay only half of their property taxes this year.
The bad news is that's not good news at all.
Nobody is eagerly pronouncing this, but behind the scenes officials
are worried that Cook County's perennially late second-half property
tax bills will be later than ever this year. In fact, they may not get
out until January 2011 -- half a year later than they should.
"It's possible -- but not certain -- that second-installment tax
bills will be late this year," a spokesman for Cook County Assessor Jim
Houlihan told us Wednesday. This is becoming a theme, with tax bills
out later and later each year.
Last year, tax bills went out at the end of October and were due
back in December. The Property Tax Code says those bills should go out
For those who pay their property taxes through escrow bank accounts,
the late bills shouldn't be a problem. But it might be a nasty shock to
others who find they're asked to pay the second installment of taxes
due in 2010 at virtually the same time they must come up with the cash
for the first 2011 installment.
The late tax bills also skew the budgets of school districts,
municipalities and other government agencies that must scurry to borrow
money while they wait for their revenues. The interest on the loans is
just another unnecessary expense that in the end falls on the shoulders
The problem is that the system is just too complicated.
The assessor's office needs data from the recorder of deeds to do assessments, which then go to the Board of Review.
After the board acts on appeals, everything goes back to the
assessor's office and then to the state Department of Revenue to set a
figure known as the equalizer. Only then can the county clerk calculate
the tax rates and forward everything to the treasurer's office to send
out the bills.
If everyone is charge, no one is in charge.
It's time to streamline the system, possibly through consolidating some county offices, and get tax bills out on schedule.