May 29, 2020
The Cook County Board waived late-payment interest penalties for property taxpayers in the Chicago area. Although the second installment of Illinois property tax bills is still due on August 3, 2020, payments made before October 1 will not incur late payment penalties. The Board hopes to provide relief to taxpayers in the economic crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
The change to Cook County property tax collections passed as an extension of the county’s declaration of disaster in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The board also authorized the Budget Director Annette Guzman to transfer more than $50,000 for personal protective equipment (PPE) and other needs for the county’s response to the pandemic. Guzman said that vendors demand requires the ability to make transfer decisions quickly.
Three board members voted against the changes. Commissioner Sean Morrison voted against both the extension of Cook County’s disaster declaration and budget authorization. He said that not capping the budget authorization was a failure of the fiduciary oversite commissioners were elected to provide. Commissioner Bridget Gainer, citing a need for more transparency, also voted against extending the disaster declaration. Commissioner Bridget Degnan voted no to the budget change, saying that the board should be more involved in budget changes.
Cook County property tax officials expect a majority of payments to be made on time because mortgage holders make monthly escrow payments. These funds are expected to transfer on schedule to pay homeowner’s second-installment of annual property tax bills. However, Attorney Burt Odelson, representing several municipalities, warned that late payments might not be distributed until November or December. These cities will still have sales tax revenue, but Odelson warned that without property tax funds municipalities will have difficulty funding essential public services like police and fire departments.
The Cook County Board has not met in the same capacity or as frequently during the past few weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the vote on the emergency declaration and budget changes, Board President Toni Preckwinkle spoke with commissioners in groups of four by phone. Finance and hospital officials were available for direct questions from the board members.