Did You Claim Your Homeowner’s Exemption?

Gary Kopycinski

By Gary Kopycinski

A resident approached me last week while I was exercising at Quality Classic Fitness Center, clearly in distress about her property tax bill. Expecting a relative increase when she received her 2009 Second Installment Property Tax Bill from Cook County, she was shocked to see an almost $3,000 increase in her 2009 taxes from the previous year. I asked her to send me a copy of her bill and I would take a look at it.

When I looked at the bill, I was at a loss to explain the whopping increases. Her 2008 taxes totaled $4,921.18. Of that amount, $3,032.36, or 61.6%, went to the school districts, with School District 163 claiming the lion share at $1,937.43 and SD 227 coming in second at $1,012.93. Her taxes paid to the Village of Park Forest that year totaled $1,442.24, 29.3% of the overall total.

2009 was a completely different story. Her total property taxes ballooned to $7,743.39. School District 163 jumped to $2,934.86, a 151% increase over 2008. SD jumped to $1,599.96, a 158% increase. Park Forest’s share, however, caught my eye: $2,373.30, up 164% over the 2008.

Something was clearly wrong, but I couldn’t figure it out. Like many in Cook County, this resident saw her 2009 Assessed Value drop from $14,225 in 2008 to $13,514 in 2009.

I emailed my friend and asked her if she had ever challenged her assessment. She replied that she had not, and asked how she might go about that. I sent her a link to an article that seemed to describe the appeals process pretty well. A new assessment, however, would not solve a tax bill that had jumped 157% in one year. There had to be more.

Before returning to Quality Classic today, I stopped by Village Hall to chat with Park Forest’s Director of Finance Mary Dankowski about the situation. Mary and others on staff have periodically worked with home owners and reviewed property tax bills, and the Village Board has held sessions showing members of the public how to challenge their tax assessments. Mary had a copy of her own property tax bill on her desk, and her bill also showed increases – but nothing close to 157%. When I began to share the information about this bill with Mary, she spoke about the 2009 State Equalization Factor, which increased to an absurd 3.3701. That made a difference, but still not 157%. Mary asked if the resident lived in SD 163. I told her she does. We all know our residents in SD 163 have disproportionately high property taxes. (On another but very much related issue, will the school districts please start levying a flat dollar amount instead of shooting craps with percentages? Please! Budget conservatively, levy what you need, and stop taking chances every year! The percentage-based tax rate hurts homeowners!)

When I told Mary that his resident saw an increase of almost $3,000 from the year before, she told me that was wrong. Her mind worked very quickly, "Did she take her Homeowner’s Exemption?"

I thought for a moment, "I don’t think she did."

Mary told me the exemption sometimes just drops from property tax bills, and residents need to remain vigilant. Apparently that is what happened to this Park Forest resident.

"She can fix that," Mary said.

I left Village Hall to go to Quality Classic. My friend was already there. She certainly appreciated receiving good news. If she follows through — and I’m certain she will — she will see her property tax bill drop to a more modest increase for 2009 instead of the insane 157% she found when she opened her bill.

Have you taken all the exemptions you are entitled to? If you own or are financing your own home and live in that home (no, you cannot claim a Homeowner’s Exemption or any other if you are a landlord and are renting the residence), you are entitled to claim a Homeowner’s Exemption.

Here are the three exemptions Cook County allows:

  • Homeowner’s Exemption
  • Senior Citizen Exemption
  • Senior Assessment Freeze Exemption

They are located in the right column of your bill. Make sure you’ve taken every one you’re entitled to.

Related: Not too late to claim tax breaks, assessor says (Sun-Times Media)