Legislators to Tackle Assessment Cap Plan
Thursday, December 25, 2003
by Peter Nolan
When the 93rd Illinois General Assembly reconvenes next month it will deal with an issue left over from the fall veto session that will have a major impact on homeowners throughout Cook County.
The legislature postponed action on a plan that would have put a 7 percent cap on assessment increases for residential properties.
Residential property values have been soaring in recent years, especially in upscale suburbs of Cook County and gentrifying neighborhoods of Chicago where new townhomes are replacing the old bungalows and two flats.
While an increase in property value is generally a good thing, it can also mean a significant hike in property taxes if local government bodies don't hold the line or reduce their tax rates. Big tax increases can force lower income families and senior citizens to sell their homes.
But, what if they don't want to leave their homes? The issue has many public officials worried.
The 7 percent cap proposed by Cook County Assessor James M. Houlihan, and supported by other elected officials in Chicago and Cook County, puts, what Houlihan calls, a reasonable limit on property tax increases. Homeowners in the city of Chicago who are being reassessed this year will see the results in their final tax bill in September.
The legislature delayed action on the assessment cap after the Civic Federation of Chicago, a taxpayer watchdog group, complained that the legislation is far too complicated to be rushed through without adequate examination and hearings. Assessor Houlihan said he believes homeowners can still be helped if the legislature acts quickly in the new year.
State Rep. Elizabeth Coulson, R-17th, said she wants to give property tax relief to her constituents but she has many questions about the assessor's plan.
"We still don't know how this legislation will affect the schools," Coulson, of Glenview, said. "There are many inconsistencies that must be cleared up."
Coulson added she has concerns about the yearly 7 percent increase becoming a 21 percent increase at the end of the three-year reassessment cycle.
Cook County Commissioner Lawrence Suffredin, D-13th, said he is hopeful the legislation will be passed early next year.
"This legislation would bring stability to the assessment process and protect senior citizens and young people from exorbitant tax increases on their homes," Suffredin said.
Assessor Houlihan's plan would expand the current homeowner's exemption and help homeowners get a better handle on what their tax bills will be. Under this plan, a $150,000 home that has increased in value to $240,000 would save an additional $2,000 from the current homeowners exemption.
The goal, Houlihan said, is to protect owners from dramatic increases in property values that might force them to move from the neighborhoods where they have lived all their lives.