Sunday is a key date in the long-running war of words over this year's property tax bills in Cook County. That's the day that Board of Review Commissioner Joseph Berrios last week said his office will wrap up its work.
Under the official schedule, the second installment of property tax bills already should have been sent out. In practice, that doesn't happen very often. Last year, property tax bills went out with a due date at the start of December. What's different this year is that Cook County Assessor James Houlihan last spring alleged that some other officials were deliberately holding things up to ensure the bills wouldn't go out before the Nov. 2 election. Houlihan was responding to a March 25 letter from the Board of Review that blamed Houlihan for delays that would make this year's tax bills even later than last year's.
That letter was part of an exchange in which the Board of Review said it could finish processing appeals in two-and-a-half to three months once Houlihan's office finished assessing Cook County 1.8 million properties. Houlihan's office finished up in late April, which means the Board of Review should have wrapped things up by the end of July. But it's already September.
How long will it take this year? Adjusting a schedule that Houlihan released in spring for delays that since have happened, here's what we can expect:
- Oct. 1: The state Department of Revenue issues the final multiplier.
- Oct. 20: Equalized assessed valuations and exemptions released to Cook County clerk
- Nov. 10: Work completed on extensions, tax rates and abatements.
- Dec. 1: Tax bills mailed.
Under this scenario, tax bills might not be due until Jan. 3 or - if the process slows down any more - Feb. 1. If it's Feb. 1, that would be just one month before the first installment of next year's tax bills are due.
The Board of Review made its own prediction, which - accounting for the same delays that have already happened - would translate to a tax bill due date of Dec. 12.
The prospect of late tax bills isn't making suburban governmental units very happy, so there's a possibility they may put pressure on various officials to speed things up. But the process went more slowly than usual last year because many public workers had to take furlough days. That could happen again. Also, government offices have fewer workers overall. Houlihan's office, for example, had 474 employees in 1977, but this year had only 385.
The delay also will keep suburban taxpayers guessing about just how much their tax bills will be affected by Houlihan's announcement last year that residential properties in the 30 suburban townships would receive reductions in their assessed valuations. The reductions don't apply to city properties, whose valuations should be more current because it was the city's turn this time around to be reassessed. Of the city's eight townships, median assessments went down in six and up in only two - the townships including Lake View and the Gold Coast.
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