Lake County considering relief options, including waiving late penalties
Waiving late fees for property taxes -- as has been urged by two Lake County Board members -- wasn't on the board's finance committee agenda Thursday, but relief of some kind is in the works.
Whether it would be property tax-related or some other option isn't clear.
"There's a lot of good ideas that are out there and we are researching them. We are looking at them all," committee Chairman Paul Frank said to open the meeting Thursday.
DuPage County on Tuesday postponed until Sept. 1 interest penalties for late payments for the first installment of property taxes, due June 1, for property owners who meet certain criteria. McHenry County did the same until Sept. 15 and Kane County has waived penalties for one month.
Lake County Board members Julie Simpson of Vernon Hills and Marah Altenberg of Buffalo Grove have urged fellow board members to do the same as a "lifeboat" for those unable to pay their property tax bill on time because of economic conditions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Frank and others have declined to pursue that action, saying the county doesn't have the legal authority.
State's Attorney Mike Nerheim advised the county has "very limited authority" to waive interest penalties or change due dates on property tax bills when a disaster has been declared, but a challenge to any action may not be legally defensible.
"We're continuing to get clarification of what we can and can't do," Frank said.
The county collects and distributes property taxes, while its share is 7% of an average bill. Frank said the county has kept the tax levy flat for the first time in 20 years, while other taxing bodies, such as school districts, raised levies.
"We are all constantly mindful of the burden of property taxes," Frank said.
Discussion of other possibilities to provide relief is expected at the finance committee's May 7 meeting.
"Yes, we can do more to help people who need it right now and we will," Frank said. "We're going to work hard to bring something to committee next week."
Also to be considered May 7 meeting are $9 million in reductions to the current county budget.
Finance officials expect a revenue shortfall of $21.3 million for the budget year ending Nov. 30. Under current guidelines, federal CARES Act funding can't be used to replace lost revenue, committee members were told.
As for property taxes, state law requires a 1.5% penalty each month the bill is overdue. Waiving that fee on the first installment would amount to a $75 per month saving on a $10,000 property tax bill.
Simpson has said that may not seem like a lot of money but could mean a week or groceries or other necessary expenses for those most affected financially.
"I look forward to a robust conversation," at the next meeting, she said.