Emergency fund would help with high tax bills

October 20, 2008 3:33:55 PM PDT
The Cook County assessor is asking state, county and local leaders to help some homeowners hit hard by new property tax increases. James Houlihan is proposing an emergency fund to help those who can least afford to pay higher tax bills. The assessor is calling for a 2007 county property tax circuit breaker. He says this will give immediate relief for tax-afflicted homeowners caught in the economic downturn with higher property tax bills.

Under the proposal, Cook County, the City of Chicago and suburban municipalities would help lower income homeowners pay their property tax bills. It would create an emergency circuit breaker fund. Any homeowner would get assistance if their tax bill exceeded 5 percent of their income. The assistance would be capped at $700 per homeowner

"This fund would help ordinary citizens deal with escalating property taxes," said Houlihan.

Single mom Felicia Brown says her taxes went up $700 dollars for this installment. She welcomes a circuit breaker.

"When you get a tax bill in October saying you need to pay $1,100 when you're used to paying $400," said Brown.

Bernardo Domingues says he cannot afford a $500 tax increase.

"I hope that given what's happened with the economy, that President Stroger and the other commissioners who voted for the increases will see that it would be prudent to take a portion of those revenues and dedicate them to the county," said Forrest Claypool, (D) Cook County commissioner.

Cook County homeowners line outside the assessors office to complain about their tax bills.

"My taxes have gone up 1,200 percent, and I've been given the run around here," said Sachet Dasai, concerned citizen.

"It's ridiculous to jack it up $503 in one shot," said Guillermo Ramirez, concerned citizen.

Last year the law provided a maximum homeowner exemption of $40,000 for people in Chicago. But the legislature cut that to $26,000 for the 2007 tax bills. Houlihan says the impact has been devastating.

"Homeowners need help and they need it now," said Ramirez.

Houlihan also said he would ask the legislature to authorize an annual adjustment factor for assessments. That would enable the assessor's office to adjust assessments every year based on current economic conditions, bringing property values more in line with the market at that time.

Houlihan says said he will request an emergency meeting with the legislative leaders, as well as Mayor Daley, county board President Stroger and Governor Blagojevich.