Until this year, Cook County hadn't sent out bills for the second half of property taxes on time in 34 years.
The county sends out two tax bills. The first is due March 1. The second is due, well, whenever the county gets around to it. The due date is supposed to be Aug. 1, but it has been as late as Dec. 13.
For years, those late bills sent local units of government - park districts, school districts, libraries - into fits, because they didn't get their money on time. (The county collects property taxes for everyone, then divvies it up.) If the fire protection district, for example, didn't get its tax revenues, its trustees had to borrow money to get by. That means they have to pay unnecessary interest.
So, back in 2010, the Legislature quietly passed a special law for Cook County. Instead of taxpayers paying half the tax in the first installment and half in the second, the Legislature changed it to a 55 percent/45 percent split. Taxpayers paid more upfront so that local governments would have a little cash in the till while they waited for those late tax bills to be paid in the fall. They called it the "accelerated billing" law.
Well, that was then. This year, under pressure from Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the county is expected to get those second-half tax bills out on time. Good for her, and the other officials who helped out. But guess what? Even though the bills are on time, that 55 percent/45 percent split stays. Ouch.
Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Dan Patlak said no one has talked about reverting to the old 50/50 split. But in fairness, he said, no one really expected to get the tax bills out on time until now. And there's no guarantee those bills will be out on time next year, because that's the year the city townships are reassessed. This year, it was the south suburban townships, which are considered the easiest. The city townships are the toughest.
But if the county gets the tax bills out on time next year, which Patlak said he thinks it will, it will be time to consider restoring the old 50/50 split, he said.
But only the Legislature can do that. Wonder if it will.
Read a Sun-Times editorial on property taxes here.
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