Clarification on Cook County Board Property Tax Freeze

Cook County Property Tax FreezeIn a recent move described as “historic,” the Cook County Board of Commissioners have approved the “Cook County Taxation Predictability and Long-Term Fiscal Forecasting Amendment.” This has been described as freezing Cook County’s property and sales tax rates until January 1, 2020.

The amendment provides certain impediments to future tax levy increases after January 1, 2020, including that the Cook County Bureau of Finance must provide the Board with a fiscal forecast that analyzes revenues, expenditures and planned debt issuance for three years should the tax change occur.

This sounds good on the surface but is less appealing once you dig into it.

Comments from John Fritchey

According to Cook County Board Commissioner, John Fritchey, who championed the amendment: “I don’t think that there is a person in Cook County who ever thought they would see the day when they got a guarantee that there would be no new sales or property taxes for years. Today is that day.”

Fritchey went on to say, “From increases in property taxes, sales taxes, water taxes, taxes on shopping bags and more, residents are understandably feeling like they are paying more taxes every time they turn around. When taxpayers don’t know when another tax is on the way, it is impossible for them to responsibly budget for things like housing, groceries and child care. Passage of my proposal will finally give taxpayers a level of certainty they need and deserve in order to plan for their life needs.”

The Fine Print

We took some time to review the Cook County amendment, and it reads differently to us than how it’s described above. The amendment states that the levy is frozen for 2017, 2018 and 2019 at the prior year’s level subject to an increase of the lesser of 5% or the increase in the consumer price index (CPI – aka, inflation). However, the Cook County Board can override the levy cap with a 2/3 vote. Thus, the “freeze” will still include up to a 5% increase and can be easily overridden at any time by the Board. Additionally, the value of any new construction improvements or additions to existing parcels are excluded from the cap on levy increases.

While the amendment is touted as providing certainty and relief to taxpayers, when you read the fine print, it appears to lack both in substance. The only way to truly get property tax relief in Cook County is to make sure you claim all of your exemptions and to appeal your property taxes.

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