Cook County property owners delay paying $1.8 billion in taxes
By Jake Griffin
Cook County's two-month reprieve from delinquent property tax penalties has resulted in delayed payment of almost $1.8 billion.
Nearly 25% of the property taxes owed in the second installment bills that were originally due Aug. 3 have yet to be paid, according to Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas' office. More than $1.1 billion still owed is from commercial property owners in the county.
"The fact there's so many unpaid commercial bills is maybe the beginning of the dam breaking for commercial real estate," Pappas said. "How can they pay if nobody is paying them? I think we're on the verge of a commercial collapse, but I'm just an independent observer."
The delay in imposing penalties, which is a monthly charge of 1.5% of the amount of property taxes owed, ends Oct. 1. It was implemented as the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to shutter and people lost their jobs.
Local governments, especially school districts, rely on property tax revenue to operate. The loss of revenue could force the taxing bodies to borrow, which could ultimately lead to higher taxes.
Treasurers in each county regularly distribute property tax revenues to the taxing bodies throughout the year.
"We're about $9 million off from what we had received in property taxes last year at this time," said Diana McCluskey, chief business officer at Palatine Elementary District 15. "There is sufficient (reserves) if we need to cover some of our monthly expenses. We do not have to borrow at this point."
Among properties in Northwest Cook County, 30.1% of the property taxes owed in Leyden Township have yet to be paid, the highest rate among the eight townships in the region. That amounts to more than $62 million that has been delayed, according to figures from Pappas' office.
"District 214 real estate tax collections are down about 16.1% from the same time last year," said Dave Beery, spokesman for Northwest Suburban High School District 214. "The school board's practice of maintaining a six-month cash reserve fund was adopted for events such as these. The delayed collections will, however, negatively impact interest revenues."
Barrington Township property owners still owe $16.3 million, or 29.2% of the total due. In Elk Grove Township, nearly $47.2 million has been delayed, which translates to 22.7% of all taxes owed. Property owners in Hanover Township still owe $20.7 million, which is 17.4% of its total. Nearly 8,300 Maine Township property owners still owe $52.7 million in delayed taxes, which is equal to 22.6% of the total tax bill.
In Palatine Township, property owners have delayed paying $37 million, nearly 21% of the total due. Schaumburg Township property owners have yet to pay more than $55 million in taxes owed, which is 22.7% of the total amount due. And in Wheeling Township, property owners still owe $55.9 million, or 20% of the total amount of taxes due in the second installment of bills.
Throughout the county 33% of the taxes owed by commercial properties owners are still outstanding, while only 15.8% of the residential property taxes are still due.
"When it comes to homeowners, they traditionally rush in to pay ahead of time," Pappas said. "Even before the due date, we had 80,000 (tax bills) paid."
Other suburban counties have also tried to help taxpayers. In DuPage County, officials there allowed property owners a 90-day window on the first installment of taxes originally due June 1 to pay without penalties. The second installment is due Tuesday. Property owners who don't pay the first installment by Tuesday could see three months worth of penalties tacked onto their tax bills, DuPage County Treasurer Gwen Henry said.
In Kane County, taxpayers were given an extra month to pay the first installment of property taxes, but they were not given any reprieve for the second installment due next month.
Lake County property owners who paid half of their tax bills on the original due dates of June 8 and Sept. 8 would be eligible to pay off the remaining amounts two months later.
McHenry County also waived penalties for the first installment of property taxes that were due June 15. However, if payment isn't received by Sept. 15, property owners would have three months of penalties tacked onto their bills, as well.
McHenry County Treasurer Glenda Miller said property tax collections are only down 3.6% from where they were last year at this point.
"So that tells me people are paying," she said.
Will County taxpayers who paid half of the amount owed in each installment by the original due dates of June 3 and Sept. 3 could take an extra two months to pay the remaining amount, according to the treasurer's website.
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