Cook County taxpayers could save money now that their second-installment property tax bills are expected to arrive on time for the first time in more than three decades.
That's because taxing bodies relying on the property tax revenues won't have to borrow or deplete reserves to cover the tardy payments.
School districts are affected the most because they rely almost solely on property tax revenues for their operations.
"When the property tax payments were delayed in 2010, the district was getting very nearly where we'd run out of cash to pay for payroll and our bills," said Scott Thompson, Palatine Township Elementary District 15 superintendent. "We were getting to the point of writing tax anticipation warrants. We incurred some costs in our personnel department and business office in generating that work as well as lawyers and bond counsel fees."
In 2009, late tax bills cost District 15 taxpayers almost $92,000 because the district used reserve funds and lost interest that would have accrued during that time, county officials reported at a news conference Wednesday. A sampling of eight school districts in 2009 showed nearly $1 million was spent to make up for the tardy tax payments, officials reported.
Officials from the Cook County assessor's office and the county's board of review touted new technology and interagency cooperation for the on-time delivery. The last time these tax bills showed up in mailboxes on time was when George Dunne was president of Cook County Board in 1978.
Current board President Toni Preckwinkle lauded the tax agencies for their efforts.
"The continued delay in getting tax bills out on time has repeatedly hurt school districts, library districts, park districts and taxpayers," she said. "This is another example of the collaborative work we've undertaken at Cook County and evidence that we continue to take positive steps forward."
Board of Review Commissioner Mike Cabonargi said allowing property tax appeals to be filed electronically reduced paperwork and staff time. It also helped that Assessor Joseph Berrios delivered assessments to the board of review piecemeal rather than all at once on the deadline, as had been the practice of the assessor's office in the past.
"When you get assessments for 20 townships in April, everybody's working at a crazy rate and a crazy pace," Cabonargi said. "This year, with the help of the assessor's office, we were able to stage ourselves and staff at appropriate levels."
While Cabonargi admits that the board of review's staff was worked hard during the past two months, often "working seven day weeks a couple times in a row," the agency's overtime budget was not blown out and many employees will receive paid time off during less busy times of the year as compensation for their work in March and April.
Kelley Quinn, a spokeswoman for Berrios' office, said there were no additional or unanticipated costs incurred there either.
"We basically increased productivity," she said. "We set deadlines that didn't exist before."
The tax bills should start arriving in July and come due starting Aug. 1.
"Having the tax bills mailed on time is a huge benefit for us because we won't have to waste any administrative time worrying about these (tax) warrants and being able to meet all of our financial obligations," Thompson said.
Taxes: Bills should start arriving in June