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Cook County offers tax amnesty for businesses

Thursday, September 29, 2011
Chicago Tribune
by Erika Slife

Businesses who owe taxes to Cook County can make good without penalties or interest through the end of October under a new program Board President Toni Preckwinkleunveiled Thursday.

The idea is to recoup $10.2 million in unpaid taxes at a time the county is facing a $315 million budget shortfall next year.

Officials say the county loses up to $2.89 million a year in unpaid taxes for gas, alcohol, amusement, parking garages, new cars and other titles. It’s money that officials say could be going to public safety, public health and other services.

“We’re going to ramp up our compliance efforts here in the county,” Preckwinkle said. “In advance of ramping that up, we’re giving people an opportunity to voluntarily comply.”

As part of the new program, businesses who register and pay will have penalties waived, and will only have to pay taxes and interest dating back four years. Under county ordinance, tax-delinquent businesses could be subjected to taxes, penalties and interest for up to seven years.

Businesses who pay up by Oct. 31 won’t even have to pay interest.

“This is a compliance effort to encourage those who are not remitting, that have not been discovered yet by Cook County, to come forth,” county Director of Revenue Zahra Ali said.

The county’s revenue department is adding auditors and investigators to increase efforts to find tax-delinquent businesses. The department will partner with other governments and work with chambers of commerce and other business groups to identify unregistered businesses, officials said.

Also Thursday, Preckwinkle said the county saved $1 million in electricity costs this year by encouraging employees to shut off lights, computers, escalators and elevators during non-working hours, changing custodial staffing hours and controlling temperatures. The county also renegotiated its natural gas and energy contracts, which led to lower rates.

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