Money includes $38.65M collected-to-date through the Erroneous Exemption Program created by the Berrios administration
COOK COUNTY | Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios announced today that his office has billed $58.98 million for exemptions received by taxpayers who were not qualified for them. Recovery of such would-be lost revenue had never occurred before Assessor Berrios took office; a total of nearly $36.85 million has been collected.
In 2011, Berrios conceived a law allowing the Assessor’s Office to bill and collect for erroneous exemptions. Berrios later designed and proposed legislation and helped pass it through the Illinois General Assembly. It became law in 2013. All investigations and collections are completed at no cost to taxpayers.
“Nearing the $37 million mark in collections is a huge milestone for our hardworking staff, and the great success of this law consistently shows how much it was needed,” Berrios said.
The Assessor added, “I crafted the Erroneous Exemption legislation after taking office because there previously was nothing in place to help recover the money unfairly received from erroneous exemptions or to deter this from happening in the future.”
The erroneous exemption law provides for the collection of unpaid property taxes, penalties and interest due to exemptions for which taxpayers are ineligible. That money is to be returned to schools and other local taxing bodies. Savings to Cook County continue because erroneous exemptions are also eliminated from future tax years.
The overall total of nearly $59 million billed includes 2,122 liens currently in place for more than $8 million on properties which had erroneous exemptions. The Assessor’s Erroneous Exemption Unit is self-funded.
Cook County Budget Director Tanya Anthony has said, “The Erroneous Exemption Recovery Program has been one of the shining examples of operational effectiveness at the County. The program’s self-sustainability is a model we strive to implement with other programs countywide.”
The unit examines Property Index Numbers (PINs) or investigates any claims of erroneous exemptions. It identifies taxpayers and properties receiving fraudulent exemptions and, after an investigation is complete, a bill is mailed to the taxpayer, who may request a hearing. If a bill is unpaid after 30 days, a second notice is sent before a lien is placed on the property.
“Each year, Cook County taxing bodies could lose millions of dollars because people cheat or otherwise erroneously claim exemptions,” Berrios said. “At a time when schools and local municipalities are challenged with budget issues, it will be helpful for this money to go back to serving the community. We are immensely proud that our reforms have led to recovering these funds.”
Local taxing bodies located in each of the county’s 38 townships receive money collected due to the erroneous exemption billings. The total amount distributed varies, depending on which areas of the county erroneous exemptions were received in and the amount involved.
By law, a person is allowed to collect an exemption only on the home that is his or her primary residence and only if all qualifications are met. The 2013 law gives the Cook County Assessor the means to recoup funds from those who have improperly received homeowner, senior, disabled persons or disabled veterans exemptions. It also allows property tax liens on the properties of those taxpayers who have received undue property tax exemptions.
“I am extremely proud of the work and extensive research that went into the development of the erroneous exemption law. It is having a dramatic and positive impact not only on the budget-strapped school districts and other local taxing bodies but on taxpayers throughout Cook County,” Berrios said.