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Property owners flock to assessor’s office to contest bills

Thursday, July 12, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times
by Josh Mcghee

Thousands of people jammed the offices of the Cook County assessor this week to gripe about the property tax bills they received this summer — which came earlier this year than anytime since 1977.

They were met with waits as long as four hours in the assessor’s Skokie office, where some complained their bill had been raised by more than $1,000, while others worried they had not received exemptions they thought they should have received.

Irene Doherty, 68, of Chicago, complained she had been to the Skokie office three years in a row to fight her bill.

“I refuse to come back. I’ll stay here five or six hours,” Doherty said initially. In the end it took three hours for her to find out she would not receive a senior freeze exemption, which freezes the equalized assessed value of a home from year to year even if the tax rates increase.

Doherty left questioning how she would keep her house where she had lived for 17 years.

“I can understand now why we’re having so many foreclosures and why people can’t afford to keep their homes. It’s heartbreaking,” said Doherty.

Pete Pavkovic, 56, of Chicago, said his bill was $500 more than last year’s bill — when he expected it to be $300 less. This was his second trip to the office this week.

“The first time I got here there was probably twice as many people. The guy gave me a number, but I didn’t have my cane. Someone told me they waited four hours and 15 minutes, so I left.”

Kelley Quinn, spokeswoman for the the Cook County assessor, said that the Skokie office saw more than 2,800 people this week — including 891 people on Monday. That is up from 75 on a typical day.

Quinn blamed the surge this week partially on the heat wave last week that kept people indoors.

“As soon as we opened they flocked in. It was all hands on deck; even the assessor helped,” said Quinn. “We hope Monday and Tuesday were the peak.”

Quinn apologized for the long lines but noted, “We must make sure every customer understands their bills. People want recalculations. Recalculations take more then 60 seconds.”

Quinn explained that many seniors are coming in and realizing they had not reapplied for their senior exemption — which is now required.

“They don’t know they have to reapply. People come in anxious but leave happy. They don’t realize they had to reapply.”

Quinn also said that people receiving some exemptions were not capable of also receiving a senior freeze, too — which is why some left unhappy.

The bills must be paid by Aug. 1.

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