Attention Cook County property owners: As a service, we've compiled a handy user guide to navigate the county's hopelessly convoluted property tax system.
Step 1: If you have questions about tax rates, call the Cook County clerk. If you're confused about your assessed value, call the Cook County assessor. If you have no clue what a state equalizer is (hint: It jacks up your tax bill), call the Illinois Department of Revenue.
Step 2: If your tax bill hasn't arrived in the mail and it's time to pay it, call the Cook County treasurer. If you're worried that you haven't gotten your homeowner exemption or your senior citizen exemption or your senior freeze exemption or your ... yes, there are more ... call the assessor again.
Step 3: If you're concerned that somebody slapped a lien on your property, call the Cook County recorder of deeds. If you want to appeal your assessment, go to the assessor's office. Then go to the Cook County Board of Review.
Step 4: Bang your head against a brick wall.
Cook County's property tax system is, shall we say, elaborate by design. Property owners often throw up their hands and hire attorneys to navigate the assessment and appeal process. Knowing how to navigate this convoluted system for well-heeled property owners has been a lucrative business for tax attorneys.
It's prime for streamlining. Nearly 10 years ago, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, then a Cook County commissioner, proposed an Office of Tax Administration. A resolution to make that happen is scheduled to be heard Tuesday in a County Board committee.
It is sponsored by Democratic commissioners Larry Suffredin, John Daley andBridget Gainer, and Republicans Gregg Goslin, Tim Schneider and Peter Silvestri. The resolution urges all the county offices to consolidate tax functions scattered across their numerous bureaucracies, in effect to give taxpayers one-stop shopping. That would save money and make the tax system far more user-friendly.
Give credit to County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and other county officials for a big advance in the user-friendly department. A new website, cookcountypropertyinfo.com, gives taxpayers an easier way to navigate the tax process.
But the various government silos still exist, and they're not necessary. "I believe once we do this, we will be shrinking government," Suffredin told us. "That's where the County Board has to come in and protect the budget."
The resolution may require some tweaking. There is some concern from Preckwinkle's administration and the officials who would be affected that the resolution goes too far and would trigger a need to change state law. Suffredin makes a case that the county has the constitutional authority to do this on its own.
We hope Preckwinkle will endorse this resolution and lead efforts to carry it out. It's never easy to dismantle political fiefdoms. They all have their protectors. This resolution, though, is about protecting taxpayers.