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from Local Attorney, Michael H. Wasserman

Thursday, September 11, 2008

COOK COUNTY PROPERTY TAX BILLS - the wait is over?

This just in from the Wasserlaw Department of Unconfirmed Facts and Useless Speculation (DUFUS):

2007 Cook County 2nd Installment Property Tax Bills might possibly be mailed out October 3, 2008. That would make them payable on or before November 3, 2008.

This is sourced to a title company closing officer I worked with yesterday and is attributed to a conference call with one of the "higher ups" at the Treasurer's office. The treasurer's web site seems to substantiate the rumor.

I anticipate a rash of louder, more shrill complaints from City of Chicago property owners and from "tax reformer" types when those bills hit peoples mail boxes. More than the usual moans and groans we hear this time of year. We are confronted with a confluence of troubling factors:

For starters, the property tax system is based in part on triennial re-assessments of property values. Chicago properties were last re-assessed for the 2006 tax year, back when property values were (generally) rocketing upwards. Some Chicago neighborhoods saw assessed valuations increase 40 or 50% or more!. Higher assessed values (again, as a general rule) result in higher tax obligations.

At the same time we are confronting higher energy, food, and other costs of living. Day to day living expenses are eating up more and more of our wages (and gulp..... our savings and credit lines, too). These tax bills are going to be the proverbial straws that are going to break many a taxpayer's back.

To make matters worse, at least in terms of sentiment/psychology, most folks have seen their property values head back in the other direction since they were re-assessed (to say nothing of their stock portfolios and bank account balances).

But you say, Mike - what about that "7% Expanded Homeowners Exemption." Isn't that going to save us from spikes in our tax bills? Well, maybe for some few of us, but probably not for many. Its a pretty convoluted formula, but the Homeowners Exemption acts as a sort of offset that effectively lowers the assessed value of a property, which in turn lowers the tax bill. The "Expanded" exemption seeks to dampen the effect of a property assessment increase by limiting how high the increase can ratchet up in a given tax year. Here is the kicker: The maximum exemption actually decreases in each of the three years in the tax cycle. Not only are (many) property owners going to feel the pain of tax levy increases, they are going to pay those levies based on more accelerated increases in their property values.

Oh, one more thing; those bills are going to be payable on the day before election day ! Feel free to speculate on whether or not we will see change in Washington (or if that change will be tinted red or tinted blue). One this will be certain, as we head into the voting booths, change is going to be all the dough left rattling around in our pocketbooks.