Maybe you wrote a check for your Cook County property taxes even though your mortgage company already paid the bill. Or maybe you sent the check forgetting that your spouse, son or daughter paid in person.
Regardless, county Treasurer Maria Pappas said Wednesday she owes 32,591 property owners refunds because they overpaid their 2002 tax bills, which were due in full Oct. 1, by a total of more than $50 million.
Today, Pappas plans to roll out an automated phone service that she says will make it easier than ever for people to get their money back.
"We've been tweaking it to get it perfect," said Pappas, whose staff has been testing the system since August. "The big thing here is the system is in English, Polish and Spanish. You can call from any place in the world 24 hours a day."
The number is (312) 443-5100. Taxpayers must punch in their 14-digit property index numbers, or PINs, to learn if they qualify for refunds. They also can use the service to request refund paperwork via fax or U.S. mail.
Besides taxpayers owed money from 2002, as many as 93,000 other property owners are owed refunds dating back to 1998. The average refund is about $1,400.
Pappas, who's laying plans for a U.S. Senate run, said she hopes the phone service will reunite more people with their money.
In July, she updated her Web site, cookcountytreasurer.com, to make it easier for taxpayers to check electronically if they overpaid. Since then, about 25,000 taxpayers have claimed refunds totaling about $25 million.
Pappas' office doesn't keep statistics to know if those refunds were the direct result of people going online. People also find out about them through notices sent by mail.
Still, "we know we get 8,000 to 9,000 hits on the Web site, and a lot of them go to the refunds page," said Bob Benjamin, Pappas' spokesman.
Pappas is encouraging Cook County residents to call or go online quickly because overpaid property taxes that aren't claimed remain in government coffers five years.
Time is running out for about 25,000 property owners still owed refunds from the 1998 tax year. All told, the county owes them $19.4 million.