Cook County wants to loan $300 million to suburban towns

With Cook County property tax bills delayed until the end of the year, the county wants to offer up to $300 million in loans to suburban tax agencies that rely on those taxes and now have struggling to pay their bills.

Schools, fire departments, libraries and municipalities rely on revenue from property taxes. But the second installment of property tax bills likely won’t be sent to taxpayers, including homeowners and business owners, until December, about four months later than usual.

The loans would be granted in priority to the tax authorities which need them the most.

“The impact will not be felt evenly and will disproportionately affect tax districts in historically disinvested and low-income communities,” Cook County Council Chairman Toni Preckwinkle said Thursday during a briefing. with journalists.

The loan scheme is expected to be presented to Cook County Council later this month for approval.

Various county agencies involved in processing property tax bills blamed each other for the delay, pointing out the gaps in trying to work between old and new technology. Preckwinkle said the delay comes during a pandemic and the “biggest technology upgrade the county has seen in over half a century.”

In April, at a special county meeting on the delay, leaders from a handful of organizations and local governments highlighted the issues.

Small businesses might struggle to close their books at the end of their fiscal years. The unpredictability of when property taxes are paid could indicate that it is difficult to do business in Cook County, which is hurting recruiting efforts. Homeowners could end up paying back-to-back property tax bills that typically come six months apart, which could hurt low-income residents and seniors on fixed incomes the most.

In a written statement, Pleasantview Fire Chief Steve Norvilas in the western suburbs told county leaders that property taxes make up more than 90% of the fire district’s revenue.

“Although we anticipate purchases and have contingency funds available, we will not be able to absorb a six-month backlog in property tax revenue,” Norvilas wrote. “If that were to happen, we would have to make tough decisions on how to proceed. I fear this equates to service cuts for the residents we are proud to serve. »

The loan program would only be for tax districts in suburban Cook County, not Chicago. Eligible individuals must have less than 120 days of cash to pay their bills, which is the expected four-month time frame for obtaining payment of property taxes. And their bond ratings must be lower than the county’s current ratings.

The program is estimated to cost Cook County about $5 million, including interest. The loans would be repaid once the property taxes have been paid.

Preckwinkle acknowledged there is still work to be done to address delays in getting property tax bills out on time. It could take years.

Kristen Schorsch covers public health and Cook County at WBEZ’s office of government and politics. Am here @kschorsch.

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