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Berrios: Amnesty period to repay tax-exemption errors nears end

Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Daily Southtown
by Joseph Berrios

If you have been taking multiple exemptions on the property tax bill for your house, time is running out on the amnesty period set by the Cook County assessor’s office to make reimbursement for the improper tax savings.

I’m encouraging residents who have received erroneous property tax exemptions to take advantage of the amnesty period, which allows taxpayers to report and pay back the erroneous savings without penalties or interest.

After Dec. 31, my office will investigate undeserved exemptions that have gone unreported and require a taxpayer who has benefited from such an exemption to pay additional fees and interest on their savings or face civil or criminal prosecution. I want to make sure taxpayers are all paying their fair share of property tax, no more and no less.

In Illinois, a person is allowed to collect a property tax exemption only on the home that is his or her primary residence in the United States. A new law I initiated and that Gov. Pat Quinn has signed gives Cook County the means to recoup funds from those who have improperly received homeowner, senior citizen, disabled person or disabled veteran exemptions.

The law requires an amnesty period to allow taxpayers who wrongly claimed one or two exemptions to repay the savings by the end of the year. Those who claimed three or more exemptions in error are not eligible for amnesty, which began June 1 and runs through Dec. 31.

I proposed the measure shortly after taking office as county assessor in December 2010. My office was receiving a high volume of emails and anonymous phone calls reporting that people were improperly getting property tax exemptions. In the vast majority of those cases, the claims were proved to be true.

Since July 1, the assessor’s office has billed taxpayers more than $1 million for improper tax savings.

The success of the amnesty program has illustrated just how much this new law was needed. Prior to this law, my office had no means to recover the money taxpayers unfairly received and nothing to deter them from claiming erroneous exemptions in the future.

Taxpayers may visit the assessor’s office website (www.cookcountyassessor.com) to obtain additional information regarding the amnesty period and how to report erroneous exemption savings.

The website also allows taxpayers to anonymously report erroneous exemptions claimed by others to help ensure that all taxpayers pay their fair share of tax.

Notice of the amnesty period was provided in the second-installment property tax bills that were mailed in July and also was published in area newspapers.

The $1 million, once collected, will be returned to local taxing districts such as municipalities and school and park districts. At a time when local governments are severely struggling with budget issues, it will be helpful for this money to go back to serving the community.

This new law will not only have a dramatic and positive impact on school districts, towns and other local taxing bodies, but it also will greatly benefit taxpayers throughout Cook County.

Joseph Berrios is the Cook County assessor.



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