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Understanding Your Cook County Property Taxes

In this week-long series, Patch takes Cook County property owners on an adventure into the world of taxes and their impact on you.

When your property tax bill arrives in your mailbox soon, chances are you’ll be squinting to figure out the difference between your property value, your assessed property value and your equalized assessed property value.

After about four months of poking around the Cook County property tax system, one thing is clear here at Patch: It’s confusing, complex, and unwieldy, so much so that there’s not one particular kink in the system that we can point our fingers at to say, “aha, here’s the problem!”

And it’s not just us. Ask elected officials, the county assessor’s spokesperson, the assessor’s township representatives, and they all agree it's too complex. As Robert Porter, a former township supervisor, put it: “It’s like a car slamming into a wall at 60 mph.”

So this week we’re offering Patch readers a comprehensive guide to your property taxes, including a video and glossary, to demystify the seemingly arbitrary numbers that show up twice a year in your mailbox. We also uncover some surprising numbers, like how many dollars are lost each month the tax bills are delayed. (Hint: It’s in the millions).

The first thing you need to know is that Cook County is not like any other county in the state of Illinois. Our county uses a system instated in the 1970s known as the “ad valorem” process to assess how much your tax bill should be. Everywhere else in the state, prperty owners are taxed at a uniform, flat rate.

This tiered method, which affects businesses and residences differently, has wide-reaching consequences for the business landscape in our communities. As part of Patch's "Making Sense of Your Property Tax" series, in the coming days you’ll be able to:

  • Read about the impact of the “state equalizer” tool through the lens of Joel Byron, a business owner who watched his property assessment double in one year;
  • Learn how exemptions clog up the system for processing 1.8 million property units in Cook County, and how that can possibly mean you pay more in taxes than your neighbors;
  • Discover why your school district, park district, library board and municipal government officials get together twice a year as part of a tax cooperative to prevent taxpayers' appeals;
  • Find out why closing one business is tantamount, tax revenue wise, to shuttering two and a half homes, and why this matters to your property tax bill.

To get started, watch the animation video that illustrates the property tax system in two minutes, and skim over the glossary for a refresher on your consumer economics vocabulary. When the first installment of your property tax bill arrives in a few days, you’ll be all patched up.

For definitions of the terms we'll be using, check out our handy glossary.

Peggy Schultz March 28, 2011 at 01:16 PM
Please do not rely on the "market value" as printed on your tax bill. A local Realtor determines the approximate value based on similar properties in your community that have recently sold and currently listed homes that are similar. Once an offer is made, a bank appraiser will ultimately determine what amount the bank will loan a buyer for the property. Oftentimes that amount is below the contract price. The bank does factor in foreclosure, short sale and bank owned properties. Realtors and appraisers do not use the cook county "values" so be aware that the "value" on your tax bill is not the real estate market value. Peggy Schultz, Realtor @ Baird & Warner, www.bairdwarner.com/pggy.schultz
Peggy Schultz March 28, 2011 at 01:19 PM
Its hard typing on a blackberry! www.bairdwarner.com/peggy.schultz

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