New Law Increases Property Taxes in Chicago

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Talk about a one-two punch: Homeowners in Illinois' Cook County are not only facing the expiration of a property tax cap later this year, but they're also seeing higher first-installment property tax bills, thanks to a new law Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law back in October.

In plain English, this all translates into higher property tax bills heading to the mailboxes of homeowners in Cook County, with the possibility of higher ones to come later in 2010.

The property tax cap is officially known as the "7 Percent Expanded Homeowner Exemption" and was birthed by Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan, who opted not to run for re-election.

The exemption, which was first enacted in July 2004 and renewed in October 2007, aims at "immediate relief to homeowners facing assessment increases and the resulting increases on their property tax bills," according to the Cook County Assessor's Office Web site. "The 7 Percent Expanded Homeowner Exemption limits the annual increases in the taxable value of a property to 7 percent through an increase in the homeowner exemption."

On Jan. 19, Mayor Richard Daley pushed to get the exemption reinstated while surrounded by a handful of aldermen and legislators. Though it was renewed a little more than two years ago, the exemption was given a sunset provision that would allow it to die out by the fall.

The Mayor's calling upon Chicago-area homeowners and legislators to voice their support for the extension, though it seems that a Conan O'Brien-esque outpouring of support will be the only hope of swaying the gatekeeper's mind in this circumstance.

Daley called it a "last stand" and acknowledged the slim chance of getting House Speaker Michael Madigan to allow a vote on the matter. "I (push to renew the cap) with the understanding there will not be an appetite to pass it," he said.

If the exemption is allowed to fade out, Daley said 180,000 homeowners could see $600 tacked onto their next property tax bills.

To pour salt into the wound, Cook County homeowners have received first-installment property tax bills that are 10 percent higher than expected, courtesy of a law that was quietly approved in October. The new legislation requires that 55 percent of the previous year's total tax bill, instead of the old 50-percent portion, be paid in the first installment, due March 2.

This could make the first and second installments more equal than they have been in the past, but that wasn't the objective of the law. Instead, the additional funds received upfront will help out local governments, departments and agencies that are struggling financially.

Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas said she does not support the new legislation, which flew under the radar, and attached notices to property tax bills explaining the change to homeowners.

It seems that home prices are the only things not rising for Chicago homeowners these days.
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