Have you noticed something missing in your summer mail this year? Typically, second installment property tax bills are mailed in July and due Aug. 1. Not this year. For 2021 property taxes, which are payable in 2022, the second installment statements have not been mailed and likely won’t be for months to come.

Ali ElSaffar

Oak Park Township Assessor Ali ElSaffar says the official reason for the delay is a computer compatibility problem that has put the Board of Review process way behind. In December 2021, Board of Review Commissioner Larry Rogers first alerted the public that the bills would be late saying the blame lay with Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi who had mismanaged the transition from a mainframe computer to a newer, integrated property tax system. 

Kaegi, an Oak Park resident, is reported to have claimed that the Board of Review was uncooperative during the transition. Whatever the cause, that computer transition was still incomplete as of early July, and the bills will be later than they have been in a decade.

Fritz Kaegi

Just how late is anybody’s guess. ElSaffar points out that the Board of Review is still working on appeals for 18 out of 38 townships as of late July. Of the townships awaiting determination of appeals, he points out that seven are from the city of Chicago, which tends to have a higher number of properties and therefore a high number of appeals.

He emphasizes that the entire process is one of building blocks saying, “It’s like a relay race. It’s very sequential. One agency can’t act until the earlier one is finished. The state equalizer can’t be determined until all the appeals are done. The exemptions can’t be figured out until you have the state equalizer. Etc. Etc.”

Once all the appeals are finished, he said it can take an additional six to eight weeks in a normal year to move forward with billing. Then, there has to be a 30-day period between when bills are issued and when they are paid.

According to ElSaffar, all of this has real life impacts. “Obviously, the taxing districts need money,” he said.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle pledged to help towns, school districts and other taxing bodies affected by the delay with a loan program. Details for this plan are not yet available

Less obvious ElSaffar says is the impact of late bills on municipalities going forward. He points to infighting in Oak Park in previous years over District 200’s ballooning fund balance. He posits, “If it’s possible bills will come out in December instead of August, that could mean you might need a much bigger fund balance. Some taxing bodies in some municipalities might have to borrow money or pay interest because of this delay.”

For property owners, there may be issues as well. ElSaffar notes that many property owners pay their property taxes through escrow on their mortgage accounts. For a minority of these property owners, they may be paying too much or too little into escrow. Typically, that final installment bill can be a good way to correct the record, but it is not available yet, meaning those overpaying will be doing so for several extra months.

It also creates issues for those trying to sell their properties. In a normal sale, because taxes in Cook County are paid in arrears, the seller is responsible for taxes through the sale date of the property. It’s more difficult to estimate those taxes when the final installment is months late.

In addition, there is the problem of human nature. For those who pay their taxes themselves, without escrow, ElSaffar says it can be easy to forget to set aside the money when the bill does not arrive on schedule. When the final installment for 2021 taxes arrives late in 2022 and the first installment for 2022 taxes arrives in early 2023, property owners will be looking at two big expenditures close together in time.

“If you don’t have that discipline, it can be a problem,” he states, adding “To put it away and then pay a second time so quickly is hard. It’s important for individuals and the government to have a schedule.”

The last time bills were this late was for 2009 taxes, which were payable in 2010. That final installment was due Dec. 13, 2010. ElSaffar says that delay was due largely to the real estate recession. Many people saw the impact of the recession in 2009, so the tax assessor decided to reduce the entire county’s assessed values. In a typical year, one third of properties are reassessed, so the changes to assessments for all properties resulted in a huge number of appeals. “Here we go again,” ElSaffar said about the late bills.

This year, with 18 townships left to review as of July 21, he says the appeals process alone could take another two months. While he won’t guess as to a definitive date that property owners will receive their bills, ElSaffar is hopeful that the bills will go out in 2022, which is helpful for those who plan to claim a deduction for property taxes on their income taxes.

At the end of the day, he says that people like to receive their bills on a regular, semi-annual basis. He says, “Seeing a bill is a strong indicator that something’s not right. With a long gap like this, there’s less of a chance to see that.”

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