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Earlier Cook County property tax bills could catch some short of cash

Tuesday, May 01, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times

Homeowners who’ve come to expect a long reprieve between their spring and fall property tax bills may be caught ill prepared this summer when the second bill comes due Aug. 1.

That’s the fear of some township assessors, on news that Cook County expects to mail 2011 tax bills around July 1.

Though Illinois law requires tax bills be paid in two installments with March 1 and Aug. 1 due dates, the county hasn’t met the second-payment deadline in decades.

Last year, second installment bills were due Nov. 1. A Dec. 13 due date in 2010 posed an excruciating wait for school districts and other taxing bodies that rely on property taxes to make payroll and fulfill obligations to bondholders.

“I’m concerned that many homeowners who have their mortgage companies pay their real estate taxes may not have enough in escrow to pay their second installment bill,” said Patricia Damisch, Northfield Township Assessor, who issued a news release to alert homeowners of the need to prepare. Damisch noted that Cook County’s late schedule has been so routine that financial institutions have set up mortgage escrow accounts accordingly.

“Owners need to make sure they have the funds available to pay their real estate taxes on time,” she said.

Nick Pavletic, deputy assessor for Evanston Township, believes the early due date will pose more of a hardship for homeowners who pay their own property taxes.

“They are going to pay out earlier than they are used to,” he said. Because the second bills have come out so late, homeowners have had more problems recently making the first installment by March 1.

If homeowners who pay their own taxes are unable to pay in full by the due date, a 1.5 percent interest penalty is added for each month payment is late.

Pavletic said mortgage companies don’t recalculate the homeowner’s escrow account until the end of the calendar year so homeowners will have time to catch up. He notes that homeowners can negotiate with the lender to cover escrow shortages and avoid higher monthly mortgage payments.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has made it a priority to get property tax bills out on time. Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios and the Board of Review were able to speed up the filing and disposition of tax appeals through a new online system. The Board of Review closed the books on April 24.

In recent years, the high volume of tax appeals has been cited as a reason for the delays, because tax rates cannot be computed until final assessment figures are known. The lllinois Department of Revenue can then finalize the multiplier on the assessments, setting off a chain of calculations in various county offices that ends in the printing and mailing of the tax bills.

Pavletic believes the earlier timetable will prove a boon in the long run, allowing school districts to avoid short-term borrowing.

“I’m hoping it is eventually going to drive down the cost a little bit,” he said.

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