Assessor warns Cook County seniors: double check your tax bill

Updated 9/27/2011 2:12 PM

Cook County homeowners over age 65 should double-check the second installment of their 2010 tax bills when they arrive in the mail next week to make sure they are getting the savings from their senior citizen exemptions.

Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios said many people might not be aware of a new state law that requires them to reapply annually for the senior citizen exemption.

Those who failed to apply still can file to get the exemption, but they'll have to pay their property taxes and then wait for a partial refund.

Berrios said his office mailed out 300,000 reminder notices to people who applied for exemptions last year, followed up with postcards to those who did not respond, and hosted more than 100 outreach sessions on the subject. But 55,000 people never responded. While some may have moved or passed away, Berrios believes many seniors still don't know they had to reapply and will lose out in hundreds of dollars worth of tax savings.

When the bills arrive in the mail next week, it's important to look on the right side of the bill and see the list of exemptions as well as the dollar amount of savings, he said.

"If you look at that number and it says zero, you need to call us or go to one of our offices," said Cook County assessor's office spokeswoman Kelley Quinn. "If they forgot to file for their senior exemption, then they won't get their homeowners exemption."

Seniors receiving the senior citizen exemption automatically qualify for the homeowner exemption, and do not have to apply for it separately, Quinn said.

A senior exemption is available to Cook County homeowners ages 65 and up, and reduces their equalized assessed value on the second installment of their annual property tax bills, thus lowering the amount of taxes owed.

"At this time, when people are struggling to pay their bills, every dollar counts," Quinn said.

Assessors offices are located in Cook County courthouses in Rolling Meadows, Skokie, Bridgeview and Markham, as well as in Chicago.

The new law requiring seniors to reapply was meant to prevent fraud, and this is the first year the law has been in effect.

Berrios is trying to get the law overturned, adding that his office has spent $250,000 trying to educate people about the change.

"In addition to the cost, the annual application process is an unnecessary hardship for seniors, when they have already proven that they meet the age and residency requirements necessary to receive the exemption," Berrios said in a statement.

Besides the senior citizen and homeowner exemptions, eligible homeowners may also receive the senior freeze, returning veterans', disabled veterans', disabled persons' and longtime occupant exemptions. Qualifications for each exemption may be found on or by contacting the assessor's office at (312) 443-7550.

Eligible homeowners who are missing exemptions still must pay their taxes but can file to receive the exemption and a partial tax refund. To do so, download an exemption certificate of error form at the assessor's website, or call the office to request a form be mailed.