Kadner: Seniors lose tax freeze as property values decline
Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-6787 July 6, 2012 9:08PM
Updated: August 9, 2012 9:30AM
Senior citizens throughout Cook County are wondering why their property tax freeze was taken away this year.
“We’re getting about 200 taxpayers a day coming in here and most of them are seniors complaining about the freeze,” a spokeswoman for the Worth Township assessor’s office said.
Cook County property tax bills were mailed out last week, and many senior citizens are stunned to discover their property values are down, their property taxes are up and a tax exemption they’ve been receiving for years has been removed.
It doesn’t make any sense.
There’s nothing I dislike more than explaining a property tax system that was designed to confuse the people who pay taxes.
But here’s my attempt at a simplistic explanation for what’s going on, from what I’ve heard from the Cook County assessor’s office.
Say Jane Doe successfully applied to freeze her equalized assessed value about six years ago at $100,000.
The reason she wanted to do that was because property values were booming and, at 72, she couldn’t afford to keep paying higher property taxes because her income wasn’t going up.
But because of the downturn in the economy, her equalized assessed value now is $50,000.
Keeping her property value frozen at $100,000 makes no sense. Instead of getting a tax break, she would be paying higher taxes than she should.
So the Cook County assessor’s office reviewed the bills and decided many senior citizens were better off getting something called a
7 percent expanded homeowners exemption.
The expanded homeowners exemption should not be confused with the standard homeowners exemption, just like the senior freeze should not be confused with the regular senior exemption.
Of course, you are confused by all of that, as any normal person would be.
The regular senior exemption can be received in addition to the 7 percent expanded homeowner exemption. The senior freeze exemption cannot be received with the 7 percent exemption.
With property values going down, it’s better to get the 7 percent exemption (which is really not 7 percent for everyone, but has been called that since it was passed) because it can get you a reduction off the current equalized assessed value.
Cook County sent out 43,000 letters to homeowners notifying them they would benefit more from the 7 percent homeowners exemption than the senior freeze.
But the county apparently decided to make the change for many seniors instead of letting them make the choice, which created one of the problems.
People don’t always like the government making decisions for them.
But why are property taxes higher if property values are down?
Your municipality, school district, library district, township, park district and others all set levies, actual dollar amounts they need to collect.
Even if your property values go down, someone still has to pay for snow removal, teacher salaries, park programs, pothole repair — and those costs aren’t going down.
So to collect the revenues needed, the tax rates in many south suburbs went up, often by 20 percent.
You can find the tax rate information on the Cook County clerk’s website, www.cookcountyclerk.com.
In addition to property values going down, there are more homes in foreclosure and more businesses closing their doors, meaning fewer dollars for local governments, also causing them to raise their tax rates.
It’s not a good situation. And it’s only going to get worse because that 7 percent expanded homeowners exemption is being phased out, meaning it’s going to be less and less each year and eventually disappear in the Southland in 2014.
As for the people whose senior freeze was taken away this year, the Cook County assessor’s office said they should reapply next year and contends they will not lose their base year when the exemption was first applied.
I’ve been campaigning for a drastic change in the property tax system for years because it is both confounding and unfair.
Property tax lawyers make millions of dollars appealing property tax bills.
There’s a perception among taxpayers that the system is crooked.
It is already driving small-business owners, young couples and the elderly out of state.
Our Chicago-centric political leaders don’t seem to understand, or care, about the plight of south suburban residents.
Fairness is the issue here. And this property tax system ain’t right.