Been taking multiple exemptions on the tax bill for your house? Time is running out on the amnesty period to repay those "mistakes."
Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios is encouraging residents who have received erroneous property tax exemptions to take advantage of the amnesty period that allows taxpayers to report and pay back the erroneous savings without penalties or interest.
After Dec. 31, 2013, the assessor's office will investigate erroneous exemptions that have gone unreported and require the taxpayer to pay additional fees and interest on their savings or face civil or criminal prosecution.
"If someone has been getting an erroneous exemption, now is the time to come forward and correct the situation during the amnesty period," Berrios said. "I want to make sure taxpayers are all paying their fair share of property taxes -- no more and no less."
In Illinois, a person is allowed to collect an exemption only on the home that is his or her primary residence. A new law initiated by Berrios and approved by Gov. Patrick Quinn will give Cook County the means to recoup funds from those who have improperly received homeowner, senior, disabled persons' or disabled veterans' exemptions.
The law requires an amnesty period to allow taxpayers who wrongly claimed one or two erroneous exemptions to repay the savings by the end of the year. Those who claimed three or more exemptions in error are not eligible for amnesty.
Berrios proposed the measure shortly after taking office when his administration noticed a high volume of emails and anonymous phone calls reporting that people were improperly receiving exemptions. In the vast majority of those cases, the claims were proven to be true.
Since taking effect on July 1, 2013, the Assessor's Office has billed over $1 million for erroneous exemption savings received by taxpayers.
"The success of the amnesty program in the last three months has illustrated just how much this new law was needed," Berrios said. "Prior to this law, we had no means to recover the money taxpayers unfairly received and nothing to deter them from claiming erroneous exemptions in the future."
Taxpayers may visit the assessor's website at www.cookcountyassessor.com to obtain additional information regarding the amnesty period and how to report erroneous exemption savings they have received. The website also allows taxpayers to anonymously report erroneous exemptions they may be aware of to ensure that all taxpayers pay their fair share.
Notice of the amnesty was provided in the second-installment tax bills that were mailed in July and was also published in area newspapers.
The $1 million, once collected, will be returned to local taxing bodies such as schools and local governing taxing bodies.
"At a time when schools and local municipalities are severely struggling with budget issues, it will be helpful for this money to go back to serving the community." Berrios said. "This new law will not only have a dramatic and positive impact on schools and other local taxing bodies but will also greatly benefit taxpayers throughout the county."