Officials press for property tax reform

Chicago officials today pressed for broader tax relief for homeowners, noting that a series of exemptions passed by state lawmakers in 2004 will soon expire.

"During these tough times, it's important that we do all we can to keep Chicago affordable - especially for our working families, our senior and others who struggle day by day to make ends meet," said Mayor Richard M. Daley.

In 2004, the state legislature placed a 7 percent cap on assessment increases.

Last year, lawmakers changed the program, instituting varying levels of tax credits. They also limited the program to returning veterans, the disabled, and homeowners who bought their property more than 10 years ago and have household income of less than $100,000.

Those caps expire in two years.

Daley and Cook County Assessor James Houlihan said the existing caps aren't enough. Tax bills are rising faster than paychecks, leading homeowners to default on their mortgages, they said.

"Many homeowners may be at risk this year and may be forced out of their homes," said Daley.

Houlihan said homeowners who don't qualify for the exemptions will see their property taxes increase by 14 percent this year and 11 percent next year.

"We need permanent, broad-based, 'forever' tax relief, not just a specific, targeted program that is limited," said Houlihan.

Houlihan has unsuccessfully lobbied for an across-the-board maximum exemption of $40,000 for all Cook County homeowners.

He added that key to obtaining a simplified and affordable property tax system is to demand increased education funding from the state. Property taxes provide a major source of revenue to the school system in Chicago.

Homeowners eligible for an exemption this year must apply by the end of the month.

Last week, Houlihan's office sent out application forms to more than 200,000 eligible property owners county-wide. Those who think they qualify and did not receive a form may call the city's 311 information line.