Owners of homes and businesses in Cook County can expect a mid-summer surprise: the second installment of property tax bills are expected to hit mail boxes in early July for the first time in decades.
If the bills get to the post office by July 1, it would be the first time since 1978 — when former President Jimmy Carter occupied the White House — that the bills were mailed on time, said County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
That's a good-news, bad-news proposition.
Bad news first: payment will be due Aug. 1, compared to Nov. 1 last year. Good news: school districts and local government won't have to take out short-term loans to make ends meet, saving an estimated $20 million across the county.
After 1978, the bills started going out in August. By the late 1990s, they were mailed in the fall — a point at which schools were well into the academic year.
"None of those taxing bodies are going to have to go out and get tax anticipation notes," Assessor Joe Berrios said. "They'll all have their money. The taxpayers are going to save a lot of money."
Credit for the achievement extends across many offices, starting with Berrios, who finished his initial work 120 days earlier than usual. The three-member Board of Review, which considered more than 341,000 appeals of those determinations, also worked faster.
County Clerk David Orr's office is now calculating property tax rates and amounts due, which it could hand off as early as next week to Treasurer Maria Pappas, who is responsible for printing and mailing the bills.
The tardiness became a political football in 2010, as charges flew that key Democratic leaders deliberately slowed down the process to avoid sending out big tax bills before Election Day. Democrats won't have that luxury this fall.
Also playing a key role was Preckwinkle, who like Berrios pledged during the 2010 campaign to get the bills out earlier. She got the offices to work together.
"Last year, we got the bills out six weeks earlier than before, but still not quite on time," said Preckwinkle, who like Berrios took office in late 2010. "This year we are going to get the bills out on time, and it's because everybody worked together and collaborated."