Suburban township assessors and senior advocacy
groups say one component of new tax legislation will not only hurt
property owners most in need of relief, but also create mountains of
paperwork and unnecessary headaches for agencies dealing most closely
The legislation signed Sunday by Gov. Pat Quinn
extending the annual seven percent cap on property tax growth in Cook
County features one caveat - beginning next fall, senior-citizen home
owners living in Cook County will have to reapply for annual tax breaks
Since 2008, Cook County Assessor James Houlihan's office
has used an automatic rollover system whereby seniors who showed proof
of age and residency needed to apply for an exemption only once.
Assessor's office figures show that more than 284,000 senior homeowners in the county take advantage of the program.
With the automatic rollover ending, seniors will have to
send the assessor's office copies of their property tax bill and
drivers' licenses each year in order to get the break.
Amendment sponsors have justified the change, noting it
will weed out individuals who are not qualified for the benefit but
still getting the tax credit year after year.
But Dan Patlak, Wheeling Township Assessor, said the
change will "put more of a burden on seniors, and more of a burden on
the government to have to reissue these exemptions for people we know
Patlak predicted that a number of seniors rightfully entitled to an exemption won't remember to apply each year.
"Others," he said, "will discover that they didn't get
it, and file a certificate of error. That will create more difficulty
for the township offices."
The Cook County assessor now operates only one office in
the Northwest suburbs, in Skokie. Residents who want to file a
certificate of error will have to fill out a form online or head either
to their local township assessor's office or to a county assessor's
office in Chicago.
"It's an unfunded mandate by the state," said Carol Reagan, executive director of the Palatine Township Senior Citizens Council.
"It increases the local assessor's responsibility. It
will add to our staff's workload at a time when we're seeing more
problems than ever. ... I think it's going to cost more than it's going
The nonprofit council works each year with the Palatine
Township Assessor's Office to disseminate information about senior tax
Reagan said four social service employees are on staff
to help English and non-English speaking senior residents, some of them
homebound, fill out forms.
"It would add to their workload," Reagan said. "I'm most
concerned about our older adults who are homebound and may have
difficulty understanding what this is about. When the mail comes, they
may think it's simply a confirmation of their exemption and throw it
According to the Cook County Assessor's Office, the
average homestead exemption last year was $270 for seniors living in
Arlington Heights, $302 in Bartlett, $311 in Elgin, and $248 in Des