Miscalculation leads to increased tax bills in Wheeling Township

A "miscalculation" of the senior freeze property tax discount by the Cook County assessor's "mainframe" computer artificially inflated thousands of tax bills for low-income homeowners in Wheeling Township.

Scott Smith, a spokesman for Assessor Fritz Kaegi, said the problem was isolated mainly to Wheeling Township seniors getting the discount, but a "handful" of errors in other townships were discovered as well.

Kaegi's office is issuing certificates of error to the affected homeowners. These bills will replace the ones issued by the Cook County treasurer's office earlier this month.

Carol Steinike said her tax bill was about $2,000 more than expected when she opened up her mail recently.

"It was really a sticker shock," she said.

The senior freeze works by locking a home's assessed value so that even if it is reassessed at a higher value, the owner won't be taxed at the more expensive level. It is applied only to homeowners who are 65 and older whose annual household income does not exceed $65,000.

Wheeling Township Assessor Jerry Sadler said about 3,200 properties were reported to his office by Kaegi, but he's found at least another 100 homeowners who were affected by the mistake who were not on the list sent by the assessor.

"I had one woman who was almost crying saying she was going to have to move because she couldn't afford the bill," Sadler said. "I told her it was going to be fine and that we were going to help her get it fixed."

Sadler is warning eligible seniors to carefully check their bills, especially those who pay the bills through escrow with their mortgage, "because those mortgage companies will just go ahead and pay the bill, and then it's going to be a whole ordeal fixing that."

The second installment of Cook County tax bills is due Aug. 1.

• Daily Herald Staff Writer Bob Susnjara contributed to this report.

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