Pappas adds more online tools to boost property tax transparency

Cook County property owners can now track how much more money they are sending each government agency that gets a cut of their annual property tax bill.

A new online portal at Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas’ website, aptly called “Where Your Money Goes,” breaks down the growth of a property’s annual tax bill over the past two years.

The launch of the online tool was designed to coincide with the Dec. 1 due date for the latest installment of property taxes.

“We saw 40,000 access the site on the first day and I’ve been told it’s been steady ever since,” Pappas said.

Unlike the paper bills mailed to property owners that only show how much each taxing district is due currently, the new portal compares the latest amount owed to what was paid the previous year.

“Taxpayers upset about how much they owe now have an easier way to find out where their money goes,” Pappas said when the site was unveiled. “People should pay attention to how the amount of money sought by schools and other taxing bodies, combined with changes to property assessments, affects individual bills.”

School districts take the majority of property taxes. They are almost solely reliant on those as a revenue source. But homeowners can owe property taxes to more than a dozen different taxing bodies in Illinois.

Levies set by taxing bodies such as school districts are part of the calculation for a tax bill. In Cook County, the county assessor is responsible for determining the taxable value of a property. A tax rate is determined by the county clerk to hit the allowable or requested levy amount. That rate is applied to all property values, minus any exemptions, to determine how much a property owner owes. A property owner can challenge the assessed value with the Board of Review in Cook County or the state’s Property Tax Appeal Board to try to get a tax bill lowered.

The tax bill for a single-family, split-level home valued at $350,000 in Des Plaines climbed to $7,641 this year, up $1,439 from the previous year -- a 23.2% increase. The two school districts the home sits in are due 65% of the additional tax revenue owed. the remaining 35% is split among nine other taxing bodies, including the Cook County Forest Preserve District, which is getting almost double what the homeowner paid last year because of a voter-approved tax hike.

Property owners can search the site using a property identification number, or PIN, that is listed on each tax bill.

The new portal is the latest addition Pappas has made to her website to increase property tax transparency in recent years.

“It’s extraordinarily helpful, especially this year when we were hit with this perfect storm of reassessments,” said Ken Jochum, Wheeling Township Assessor. “When tax bills came in and people would show up upset about it, we can now show them exactly where their bills went up.”

Reassessments are done in Cook County every three years, and last year it was the North and Northwest suburbs’ turn. The area saw the largest spike in residential property taxes in 30 years.

The median hike for homeowners in that part of the county was 15.7%, according to data complied by Pappas’ office in October.

The spike was due in large part to a significant shift in the value of residential property versus commercial property. In the reassessed part of Northern Cook County, homeowners are paying $387 million more than they did last year, while commercial property owners are paying a combined $56 million less.

When a property’s value declines, taxing bodies don’t lose out on the money, the burden just shifts to the other property owners within the boundaries of that taxing district to cover the loss. In this case, it was residential property owners who took the hit.

Pappas has beefed up her research and analytics division in recent years, issuing multiple reports on local government debt and tax increment financing districts, while also adding other online tools to help property owners track down missing refunds or file exemptions they are eligible to receive.

“If people keep asking you the same question, you gotta answer it,” she said. “We now have the tools to answer a lot of those questions.”

Resources like what Pappas’ office offers don’t exist in other suburban counties. And Pappas said she’s not done with the technological upgrades.

“I’m going to be the most state-of-the-art artificial intelligence government unit in the world, that’s my goal,” she said.

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