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Bill Healy/MEDILL

Joyce King, like many Cook County homeowners, faced a higher property tax bill this year. In Cook County, increases are seen on the second installment.


Panel seeks to lower gap between first and second property tax bills

by Bill Healy
Nov 20, 2008


Joyce King, 44, stood in the Cook County building Wednesday holding her tax bill, which she said doubled in the past year. The entire increase showed up in the second installment.

King, like many Cook County homeowners, knows to dread that second installment, which is typically higher than the first. 

The gap between the first and second installments might not be so large under a recommendation made to Mayor Daley earlier this week.

As it stands, a Cook County homeowner’s first installment is half of last year’s total taxes. Any increase in a home’s property taxes, whether from increased levies or a reassessment, are felt in the second bill.

A simple adjustment to the current calculations could spread out that increase more evenly over the two bills, according to a property tax advisory group that presented its recommendations to the mayor Tuesday.

Tom Johnson, president of the Taxpayer’s Federation of Illinois and a member of the group that recommended the change said, “I think it’s a good policy proposal.”

Under the proposal, the first installment would rise to 55 percent of the previous year’s total tax bill, so that once increases are factored in, the two installments would be closer in value.

“It was our suggestion and we think it’s a good idea,” said Eric Herman, spokesman for Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan. Houlihan was a member of the advisory council.

At least one critic, though, thinks it will hurt Cook County property taxpayers in the long run.

“I’m not too keen on that idea,” said Andrea Raila, a board member of Citizens for Fair Assessments and Taxes.

“If you paid $2,500 [on your first installment] and your bill is $4,500 [on your second installment] in September, you’re going to be pissed off,” Raila said.

”But if you pay $2,750 in March and then October comes and you pay $4,250,” the increase won’t be as noticeable, Raila said.

Johnson, the Taxpayer Federation president, responded, “I think that criticism, that people won’t see the increase, isn’t justified because [the total amount of property taxes] will continue to be on the bill.”

“It’s right on the bill just as it always has been,” he said.

Cook County is the only county in Illinois that estimates the yearly tax bill in the first installment, according to Johnson. All other Illinois counties can wait until reassessments are completed to compute the tax bill and divide it equally into two installments. Since Cook County has a lot more homes, it takes longer to do, which is why the first installment is an estimate based on 50 percent of the previous year’s total tax.

For homeowners who pay property taxes through their mortgage companies, the potential change would be insignificant.

Property taxes are spread out over monthly payments for these homeowners, according to Susan Larson, president of Community Mortgage Corporation in Glen Ellyn. The total amount of property taxes wouldn’t change under the measure.

In Cook County, roughly 650,000 to 700,000 homeowners pay their property tax bills through their mortgage companies, out of 1.7 million residential property tax bills, according to a spokesman for the Cook County treasurer.

The state legislature would need to approve the change before it could take effect, the report said.

None of the members of the Illinois House subcommittee on property tax were available to comment on the proposal.