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County board waters down property tax process changes, weekend courthouse closures

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

by John Byrne

Cook County commissioners on Tuesday adopted a watered-down plan for government offices to work on streamlining the property tax process after Board President Toni Preckwinkle said a proposal to create a single county tax administrator would violate state law.

The version the board passed calls on the multiple county offices that have a hand in setting, collecting and issuing exemptions or appeals of the county’s taxes to get together to figure out whether a single office can perform their functions.

The assessor, clerk, recorder of deeds, treasurer and state’s attorney will be required to report within two months on their progress in reaching agreement on how to consolidate the tax authority.

The compromise plan came after Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston, introduced aproposal ordering the assessor, clerk, recorder and treasurer to get together and create a new tax office.

Preckwinkle came out against, saying the county doesn’t have the authority and that state statutes require certain tax responsibilities to be performed by each office.

“It would unfortunately be ineffective and create an underperforming new bureaucracy without the full powers and responsibilities it needs to be successful,” she said.

Last year, Preckwinkle said she favors consolidating the county’s property tax functions, calling the current decentralized set-up confusing and inefficient. On Tuesday, she said she still wants to see that happen, pointing to the recent creation of a single county web site where property owners can get tax information.

Preckwinkle said she has not begun lobbying state lawmakers about a new law to allow the consolidation, and would not set a timeline for when that would take place.

Also Tuesday, commissioners agreed on a plan to close suburban courthouses on weekends. 
Preckwinkle proposed shuttering courthouses in Markham, Bridgeview, Maywood, Skokie and Rolling Meadows on weekends as a cash-saving measure, but suburban officials complained about having to pay their police overtime and take officers off the streets to deliver inmates to the Chicago courthouse at 26th and California for weekend bond court.

So instead, suburban police will be able to deliver defendants to the lock-ups in Markham or Maywood. County sheriff’s officers then will take them to Chicago for court.

The county will save about $1.6 million per year under the plan, less than the $2 million Preckwinkle hoped for.



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