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Kadner: Cook’s new tax bill is bigger (in size)

MariPappas

Maria Pappas

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Updated: August 2, 2013 6:45AM



Maria Pappas may be the only person in Cook County who gets excited about property tax bills.

“I think people will really be taken aback when they see their bills,” said Pappas, the county treasurer.

Pappas was referring to the actual size of the tax bills, not the amount of money sought.

“We put it on a legal-sized sheet of paper for the first time, 81/2 inches by 14 inches, so we could print everything in larger type, bold face the key categories and make these tax bills understandable to everyone,” she said. “Simply put, they’re readable.

“If someone still comes to us and says they don’t understand why their bill went up so much, our clerks at the counter can point to the items and show them exactly why. You can see it all right there.”

I have to confess that government forms don’t get me nearly as excited as watching, say, a Blackhawks game or mowing the lawn.

But I have to agree that this new tax bill spells things out pretty clearly for any property owner who wonders where all of his money is going.

The second installment of your annual tax bill, by the way, will be mailed out Monday. That alone is surprising because the second-installment bills used to arrive as late as November.

The sample tax bill that Pappas gave me, for a single-family home in Orland Park, had four categories of taxes in bold-faced print.

Under the first heading, labeled “Miscellaneous Taxes,” were listed the South Cook Mosquito Abatement District, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and Orland Fire Protection District.

Next to each of those taxing districts was the actual amount the homeowner will give it on this bill, the 2012 property tax rate and the percentage of the total bill from a particular tax district.

For example, the Orland Fire Protection District is going to be getting 12.35 percent of my property tax money, while the mosquito district got only 0.15 percent.

There’s also a separate dollar amount for the pension fund of each taxing district, which was something of a revelation for Orland Park. The teacher pensions for the elementary and high school districts combined come to about $134, while the fire district pension charge alone is $137.23.

“You’re going to like these new bills because people will see what you’ve been writing about for years,” Pappas told me. “It is very clear what percentage of the property tax bill the school districts are getting.”

Indeed, “School Taxes” are one of the four bold-faced headings. In Orland Park, the high school district, elementary school district and Moraine Valley Community College combine for 65.69 percent of the tax bill. Moraine Valley’s take is a mere 3.79 percent of that.

Pappas knows that I have been hammering away for years at the fact that the state’s lack of support for public education has caused property tax bills to skyrocket. No other state in the country puts a heavier burden on property owners for public education.

The third bold-faced category on the bill is labeled “Municipality/Township Taxes,” which combined for 11.26 percent of the total on the bill Pappas gave me.

The fourth and final category is “Cook County Taxes,” including the forest preserve district, consolidated elections, public safety, health facilities and county government. The county’s total take was only 6.50 percent.

“Maybe people will finally understand that while Cook County sends out these tax bills and calculates the bills, they are not Cook County tax bills,” Pappas said.

For some reason, whenever I receive my tax bill, my eye immediately goes to the amount for a late payment instead of the “total payment due.”

I have no excuse for that. The “payment due” amount is probably five times as large and in a box at the upper left corner of the page.

I know this. But I always think the late payment is the amount I am being dinged.

Pappas contends that the larger property tax bill “isn’t costing a penny more” than the old 8-by-11-size bill.

“I’ve been in office for 13 years, and all of that time I’ve wanted to do this,” she said. “People deserve a bill they can easily read and understand. I think we’ve done that.”

I agree, sort of. More on that later.

The bill also contains information on what you paid to each taxing district in the previous tax year, in this case 2011.

Looking at the bill, I couldn’t help wondering how people would react if they got the same kind of information on their income tax forms.

I think it would be informative to know what percentage of every dollar goes for national defense, social service programs, transportation, etc., without having to look it up on the Internet.

For that matter, how many of us know how our state income tax money gets spent or how much spending goes in each category from year to year?

The property tax, for some
reason, has caught the public’s interest in a way that other taxes have not.

Yet, despite the clarity of the new bill, even though it is readable, I don’t think it will help taxpayers understand the property tax.

That’s because the tax formula includes things such as fair market value, assessed value and the state equalization factor minus arbitrary amounts for homeowner and senior citizen exemptions.

It defies logic. In fact, it seems arbitrary.

Add into the equation that certain politically connected law firms make a lot of money filing property tax appeals in Illinois, and the average guy feels as though he’s always getting a raw deal.

Having said that, Pappas has done her best to include a lot of information in an easy-to-read format. My guess is that most people will still focus on only one number, the amount that’s due.

By the way, the second-installment payment in Cook County is due Aug. 1. You don’t want to be charged for a late payment.

By the way, where does that 1.5 percent “late payment” fee money end up? There’s nothing on the tax bill about that.



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