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Property tax relief detailed in study
`Shock absorber' boon to city homes

Monday, September 19, 2005
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

A new law designed to spread out the property-tax pain resulting from rapidly increasing real estate values paid off big for Chicago homeowners during its first year, according to a Civic Federation study. On average, city property owners who received a homestead exemption got an 11.5 percent tax break, although their tax bills will now begin to rise again. The burden from that windfall was shifted to other properties, such as businesses and apartment buildings, which experienced a 4.5 percent tax increase. Those are the findings of the federation, a local government watchdog group that supported the legislation, in a study to be released Monday. "The 7 percent [law] worked in the city of Chicago. It saved most homeowners a significant amount of money," federation president Laurence Msall said. "It was a reasonable tradeoff." Cook County Assessor James Houlihan proposed the law two years ago amid an outcry from Chicago residents concerned about high property reassessments. The law in essence defers to later years a portion of taxes in an effort to avoid the sting of paying a huge increase in the first year following a reassessment. In Cook County, property is reassessed every three years on a rotating basis. By increasing the homestead exemption to a maximum of $20,000, the law is meant to limit the growth in taxable assessed value of residential properties to 7 percent a year. That goal, however, is not entirely achieved for high-value properties with large jumps in their values. Although the results are not surprising, the Civic Federation study puts hard numbers on the tax shift that those who favored and opposed the legislation had predicted. When Chicago's tax rate was released last year, Houlihan estimated that four out of five homeowners would see smaller tax bills in the first year. "The report shows many homeowners saw significant relief, and the burden on the other classes of property was negligible," said Michelle Kucera, a spokeswoman for Houlihan. "The 7 percent measure has proved successful for Cook County homeowners." Michael Cornicelli, director of government affairs for the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago, said by shifting the tax burden the law merely takes away attention from much-needed long-term reform. "There's no getting around that one person's tax cut is another person's tax hike," Cornicelli said. "It's diverting us from the real issues." BOMA, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and others filed a lawsuit to block the new law. A Cook County judge dismissed the suit, which is now on appeal. Msall agreed long-term reform of the property-tax system is necessary, but he said the 7 percent cap worked as a much-needed "shock absorber" for homeowners facing skyrocketing tax bills. "It doesn't fix the system," Msall said. "It was never intended to fix the system. It buys us some more time. The bigger issue for us is the reliance on property taxes." North and northwest suburban homeowners are expected to see the benefits of the new law when the fall tax bills are issued, which is expected later this week.

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