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Office of Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios surpasses $30 million milestone in money recovered for return to communities

Law conceived by Berrios results in nearly $50 million in overall billing for erroneous exemptions claimed by taxpayers

Chicago – Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios today announced that his office has surpassed the $30 million mark in erroneous exemption collections. Recovery of such would-be lost revenue had never occurred before Assessor Berrios took office; a total of nearly $50M has been billed.

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.

“Passing the $30 million mark is a huge milestone for our hardworking staff. On my watch, the Assessor’s Office will continue our strong pursuit of the balance of the almost $50 million we’ve billed and will not let up in our review of all exemptions. The great success of this law has shown just how much it was needed,” Berrios said.

The Assessor added, “I felt reform was necessary and I’m glad we and the General Assembly got this reform done. Previously, there 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 local taxing bodies. Importantly, savings to Cook County continue because erroneous exemptions are also eliminated from future tax years.

The Assessor’s self-funded Erroneous Exemption Unit investigates any claims of erroneous exemptions and identifies the taxpayers and properties receiving fraudulent exemptions.

As a result of Berrios’ efforts, $30.18 million has thus far been collected for return to local taxing bodies in accordance with the law. Overall, $49.5M has been billed, including liens for $7.3M currently in place on properties which had erroneous exemptions.

After an investigation is complete, a bill is mailed to the taxpayer, who may request a hearing regarding his or her case.  If a bill is not paid 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 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 receiving 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 of them.

By law, a person is allowed to collect an exemption only on the home that is his or her primary residence.  The 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.  The law also allows an assessor to administer property tax liens on the properties of those taxpayers who have received undue property tax exemptions.

Assessor Berrios proposed the erroneous exemptions measure shortly after he was elected, as his administration sought reforms and improved performance of the Assessor’s Office. He conducted a thorough review of all systems he inherited – or the lack of systems. Both the House and Senate passed the legislation unanimously.

“I am extremely proud of the work and extensive research that went into the development of this new erroneous exemption law.  It is having a dramatic and positive impact not only on the struggling, budget-strapped local taxing bodies but on taxpayers throughout the county,” Berrios said.


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