Seniors, did you forget to renew your property tax exemption?
When Cook County property tax bills start arriving in the mail next week, some homeowners who are 65 and older are going to see higher bills than they should.
That's because nearly 52,000 property tax exemptions aimed at seniors weren't renewed this year, county officials say.
"On average, that's about $600 off a tax bill," said Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, who issued a renewal alert to taxpayers Monday. "So we're telling everyone to check."
She estimates senior homeowners are collectively paying $30 million more than they would had they received the exemptions.
Pappas' office reported 30,636 taxpayers who had received a senior exemption, which is based on age, didn't renew this year. Meanwhile, 20,984 low-income homeowners age 65 and older didn't reapply for a separate senior freeze exemption. Countywide, 12.7 percent fewer senior-related exemptions were applied to tax bills this year.
That's after accounting for taxpayers who have died, Pappas said. And there might be more seniors eligible for the freeze exemption because the household income cap was increased to $65,000 this year from $55,000. The senior exemption form is one page and requires a copy of the applicant's driver's license and a previous tax bill. The senior freeze application is two pages.
Homeowners can check whether the exemptions are applied to their upcoming tax bill by visiting Pappas' website, cookcountytreasurer.com.
County officials couldn't say why the number applying for exemptions is down.
Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios' office sent exemption renewal applications in January to the homes of those who received the exemptions last year. Seniors have to reapply for the exemptions annually to "eliminate fraud," said Berrios spokesman Tom Shaer.
"If someone should be getting the exemptions and they get a tax bill that shows they're not, all they have to do is notify us, bring verification so we know they're legit, and we'll issue a new bill," Shaer said.
In the collar counties, the deadline to reapply for senior exemptions isn't until October, officials said. It's unclear whether suburban township assessors outside Cook County are experiencing the same decline in renewals.
The reduction in tax bills from the exemptions can be fairly significant, given that the average tax bill in Northwest Cook County is expected to increase by more than $200 this year. The average home in northwest Cook County is valued at $299,100. Without the senior exemption, the average homeowner can expect a $7,332 tax bill, according to recently released figures from Cook County Clerk David Orr. When the $8,000 senior exemption is applied to the home's equalized assessed value, that tax bill drops to $6,585. With the value of the senior freeze -- which maintains the equalized assessed value of a home at a lower level -- the tax bill drops to $6,140.
Ultimately, when eligible seniors receive the discounts to their tax bills, the taxes aren't eliminated. Instead, the burden is shifted to younger taxpayers and commercial property owners.
Elk Grove Township Assessor Connie Carosielli said her office deals with the senior exemption applications frequently. Her office emailed roughly 4,000 taxpayers reminding them to renew their senior exemptions and called 500 taxpayers who had signed up for phone reminders. The township's newsletter also includes a reminder.
"The bottom line is we bend over backward," Carosielli said. "We really do try to cover as many bases as we can."
Carosielli's deputy, Laurie Wagner, was hand delivering scores of recently renewed senior exemption applications to Berrios' satellite office in Skokie as recently as Tuesday.
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