It’s costing Cook County taxpayers at least $250,000 to get the latest installment of their property tax bills out on time, WBEZ has learned.
Officials with the county agency that decides property tax appeals had said in April that they no longer had enough workers to do their job on time.
The county’s Board of Review has lost much of its staff since county commissioners voted last fall to repeal the unpopular tax on soda and other sweetened beverages. That blew a $200 million hole in the county budget and prompted steep budget cuts.
And the staffing cuts came as the agency was analyzing a high number of appeals.
The board warned that delays in sending tax bills out this year would cause a domino effect on the property tax process, potentially costing millions of dollars for the county’s schools, municipalities, park districts, and other taxing bodies.
But Board of Review spokesman Jim Thompson told WBEZ Thursday the bills will not be late after all. That’s because board workers are getting paid about $250,000 for putting in 16,000 hours of overtime, he said.
Democratic Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas said taxpayers now can view their bills online at www.cookcountytreasurer.com. You have to pay up by Aug. 1, as originally scheduled.
Pappas said her staff also worked extra hard so that the bills would get out with no delay.
“We ran our printers 18 hours a day, four printers, to get this process moved along,” she said.
Late tax bills would mean schools and towns that rely on property tax revenue would get paid later. Delays could force local officials to take out loans or pull money from reserves. That could cost them: They would then have to pay interest on the loans or lose interest income on money that was in reserves.
And that would cost between $2 million and $5 million for every month of delay, the board estimates.
“A $250,000 investment in the Board of Review to ensure tax bills get out on time is a good investment,” Thompson, the board spokesman, said.
But he also said the board’s three elected commissioners are urging the county to increase funding so the board again has “adequate staffing.”
Democratic Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle — who had supported keeping the pop tax in place — had reacted angrily when Board of Review officials told her they could not get the job done on time, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
On Thursday, Preckwinkle spokesman Frank Shuftan said, “The president is grateful for the hard work and long hours of all who were involved” in getting the bills out on schedule.
Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter for WBEZ. Follow him at @dmihalopoulos.