Cook Co. homeowners to pay more property taxes up front

January 27, 2010 5:47:54 AM PST
Many Cook County homeowners got a surprise in their property tax bills this week: 55-percent is due in the first installment. Traditionally, homeowners pay half of their property tax bills now and the other half at the end of the year. But lawmakers in Springfield changed the formula for installments- and didn't do much to publicize it.

The change only impacts Cook County property owners. The bill's sponsor admits the change was made because many local governments are low on funds.

"55 percent! No way! I would have never noticed that!" Chris McLaughlin said. The Mt. Prospect resident said she noticed her mom's property tax bill went up-- but didn't bother to read the fine print. Cook County property owners now have to pay 55-percent of their estimated bills in the first installment.

"My mom is 84 and on a fixed income. How could they do that to her without letting us all know?" said Mc Laughlin.

"I think the government is taking advantage of us," said Carolyn Burton, Mt. Prospect resident.

There is plenty of anger to go around. The first time most residents realized their 1st installment payments are going up by 5-percent is when they received their bills this week. Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas opposed the change and attached flyers to tax bills to let people know.

Lawmakers who back the upfront increase, including Governor Pat Quinn, said the upside of paying 55-percent now is that residents will have to pay less later. But the Treasurer said no one can make that promise.

"We have no way of knowing what the fall bill amount will be," said Maria Pappas, (D) Cook County Treasurer, who said - in theory- it could be more than the 45-percent. "Oh, absolutely."

The Senate bill's sponsor says the earlier infusion of cash will help nearly 2,000 government agencies - many shortchanged by the state - continue to provide essential services.

"This will give them at least a little bit more income going into a lot of those schools and a lot of the human services being cut back," said State Sen. Lou Viverito, (D) Burbank.

So how do taxpayers feel about floating the state a loan?

"I don't feel too good because I don't see them floating me a loan," said Uduma Mong, Chicago resident.

While no one likes a surprise on property taxes, this tweak is backed by the Taxpayers Federation of Illinois. The reason? Often times the second installment amount jumps dramatically, catching homeowners off guard. In theory, by paying 55-percent up front the first and second bills are likely to be closer to the same amount.