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updated: 1/31/2011 6:36 PM

Cook County tax bills to go out after election

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Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas estimates that second-installment property-tax bills will go out Nov. 22 with a due date a month later after the general election but in time for property owners to claim the payments on their 2010 income tax returns.

It has been 32 years since Cook County last met its Aug. 1 deadline for making the second installment due, but the Dec. 22 due date sets a record, a full three weeks behind last year's Dec. 1 due date. And that creates difficulties for many local taxing bodies, which historically have set bond payments to be due Dec. 1, because in the past that was a safe date to assume tax bills would be in.

Not anymore, and not with the Cook assessor's office and the Board of Review squabbling over who's at fault.

"This is exactly what Jim said would happen," said Eric Herman, spokesman for Assessor James Houlihan. "They're doing it because they don't want homeowners to see the impact of the massive givebacks they've given to commercial properties" before the general election Nov. 2.

Board of Review Commissioner Joseph Berrios, who did not reply to a request for comment, set the groundwork a year ago for saying second-installment tax bills might not be out before the end of 2010. Berrios was even then a candidate to replace the retiring Houlihan as assessor, and he's now the Democratic nominee, running against Republican Sharon Strobeck-Eckersall, Robert Grota of the Green Party and County Commissioner Forrest Claypool, a Democrat campaigning as a progressive independent.

Pappas sent letters Wednesday to Chicago Democratic Commissioner John Daley, chairman of the county's board's finance committee, citing how she warned almost a year ago that the assessor and the Board of Review were going to struggle to complete the process in time to get the second installment out before the end of the year.

"They need help," she said at the time.

While Pappas' office helped both the assessor and the Board of Review with transferred manpower, they didn't get enough of it. With Houlihan imposing a new 10-25 ordinance, calling for assessments to be set at 10 percent of market value for residential property and 25 percent for commercial, assessment notices went out to the entire county. Usually, they go to one-third in the triennial reassessment districts. That not only set the assessor's office back a month from when it completed its initial process last year, but it also produced a record 436,000 appeals for the Board of Review to handle.

The Board of Review completed its initial appeals process Sept. 13, six weeks behind last year's date. That was with Berrios and much of his staff taking a day off to attend a golf fundraiser he was holding.

And while the assessor's office promised that all Cook County homeowners were seeing their assessments lowered, it didn't figure to translate to lower tax bills. That's because the Illinois Department of Revenue set the county's multiplier last week at 3.3701, up dramatically from 2.9786 last year and 2.8439 two years ago. The multiplier is what the state uses to bring traditionally low Cook assessments in line with other counties'.

The lower assessments are set, the more the multiplier has to make up for it hitting properties that didn't receive artificially low assessments especially hard.

"Our preliminary analysis of the Board of Review's results shows the commissioners gave significant, disproportionate relief to commercial property and minimal relief to homeowners," Herman said. "Overall, the Board of Review reduced the assessed value of commercial property in Cook County by nearly 18 percent. The overall assessed-value reduction given to residential property was less than 2 percent.

"They have shifted more of the tax burden onto residential property," Herman added. "As a direct result, homeowners will see higher bills in November. It's no wonder the Board of Review commissioners wanted the bills to come out after the election."

While setting a tentative Nov. 22 date for delivering the bills, Pappas warned it was not a certainty bills would be due before the end of the year, which would create an income tax headache for homeowners if the deadline extended into the 2011 tax year. County Clerk David Orr's office still has to set the tax rates, and then everything is reviewed.

"Once we do finally get the numbers," Pappas said, "the question for us is how long does it take to make sure the numbers they gave us were right? There's a whole history here of being given the wrong numbers."

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