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Surprise! Your Cook County property tax bill might arrive on time

Monday, April 23, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

Cook County property owners prepare: Second installment tax bills may actually go out on time this year, a first in four decades.

That means they’ll likely be in the mail July 1 and due Aug. 1 — the statutory deadline — not some unpredictable date in the fall, county tax officials say.

The regular delay has been blamed over the years on everything from inefficient bureaucracies to politics. In 2010, critics charged that powerful Democrats were behind the plan to delay sending out Cook County tax bills until after the Nov. 2 election fearing voter backlash.

But Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle made “getting the tax bills out on time” a refrain on the campaign trail and during discussions of government efficiency, with county elected leaders involved in putting the bills together nodding in agreement.

Delays in getting out the tax bills means delays in getting money to taxing districts, such as schools and libraries — where officials must borrow until they get their piece of the property tax pie. Officials say schools and libraries shouldn’t have to borrow money as a result of delays because it burdens taxpayers with covering the interest on the loans.

“It’s all about saving money,” said Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios, whose office sets the values that property taxes are based on in Cook County.

Adds Commissioner Larry Rogers Jr., part of the three-panel Board of Review that hears property tax appeals: “It brings certainty to when taxpayers will receive their bills and it brings certainty to the taxing districts — they’ll know when the money is coming.”

On Tuesday, the tax appeals board will mark the earlier than ususal “closing” of the appeals session for the most recent tax cycle. While the board has seen the number of appeals climb in the last decade, with 341,000 property index numbers appealed in the 2011 tax cycle alone, a combination of better technology and more experienced staffers have sped up the process, according to the office of Commissioner and Board Chairman Michael Cabonargi.

Also the current round of elected leaders get along, which was not always the case.

The complicated task of figuring tax bills begins with assessing the value of a home, done every three years. The state issues an “equalizer” to make up for the fact that Cook County assess homes at 10 percent of their value and commercial at 25 percent of their value — different than in other counties. Then the county clerk sets the tax rate to meet the taxing districts’ financial needs.

Cook County Commissioner Maria Pappas, whose office’s job is to print the tax bills for the 1.7 million parcels of property said she’s just waiting for the figure.

“We always have the paper and are ready to print,” she said.

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