What the Gov: Will the Coronavirus Pandemic Affect Your Property Tax Bills?

Officials in suburban counties are considering waiving late fees on property tax payments to help give homeowners some financial relief.

Justin German/BGA

This article is part of a series called What the Gov?, where the BGA takes reader questions and tracks down the answers. We are devoting resources to covering how local and state governments are responding to the coronavirus outbreak. We are committed to reporting on what you want to know. Ask your questions here.

Illinois residents grappling with the financial repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic are on the cusp of receiving relief, including rent assistance and a ban on evictions and foreclosures. Yet many residents are questioning what, if anything, will be done to address one of the largest bills homeowners and businesses face — property taxes.

Frank DeVito, who owns his home in Will County, said he’s noticed all the relief for renters but wanted to know what local or state elected officials were planning to do for property owners such as himself.

“Let’s be real, property taxes in Illinois are what, the second highest in the nation?” DeVito said. “It’s become a challenge for myself as well as other homeowners. What happens when you get hit with a $6,000 property tax bill and the money you’ve been saving for it was used up on food and you don’t have any money coming in? This has to be addressed somehow and I haven’t heard or seen anything in regards to it.”

DeVito’s question came to the Better Government Association as part of a new effort by the BGA to take questions from readers and get to the bottom of how Illinois and Chicago-area elected officials are managing the coronavirus threat. And we found that not only are other landowners asking the same question but elected officials are starting to look for answers, though those answers may be different depending on where residents live.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday noted the issue of delaying property taxes falls to local and county governments. “That is not a state function,” Pritzker said.

Indeed, county officials in the Chicago region are responsible for property taxes and some have begun to move on the issue. Officials in Kane and McHenry counties, which collect property taxes in June and September, recently announced proposals to still send out the first installment bills for June but waive late fees and interest for three months. The ordinances are expected to be introduced to the county boards, which must approve the measures, the officials said.

Officials said the measures are intended to provide a grace period for those who are suffering financially during the pandemic.

In a news release, Kane County Treasurer David Rickert said the fee waiver would likely cost the county $343,000 in lost revenue, yet it “may make more drastic measures unnecessary” down the line. He also said the county is prepared to offset the lost revenue through a county property tax freeze protection fund that currently holds more than $4 million.

“In response to the unprecedented health crisis currently facing Illinois residents due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, I have received a number of requests from taxpayers seeking economic relief from property taxes,” Rickert said. “This would help prevent significant damage to our local economy and assist taxpayers in need during this health crisis.”

Representatives from treasurer’s offices in Will and DuPage counties also said they are considering similar measures. Will County Treasurer Tim Brophy said he has taken into account the potential effects of lost revenue from waived late fees, which last year amounted to nearly $600,000.

“It’s not a no-brainer,” Brophy said. “We’re hearing from a lot of districts saying that they count on that first distribution and can’t live without it. I don’t know which way this is going to go yet.”

In Lake County, Treasurer Holly Kim said she’s closely monitoring the situation but said any delay in property tax payments must be accompanied by financial relief for cities and other governments that rely on those funds.

“That includes townships with food pantries, schools providing meals, police, fire, and first responders, and local public health departments,” Kim said. “We need those services during a health crisis, and how they will be funded has to be part of any proposal to delay tax bills.”

Under Illinois law, county governments are granted the authority to waive late fees and interest payments of property taxes while a disaster proclamation is in effect at the state or federal level. Many county treasurers said they have been in talks with their counterparts in counties across the state.

In Cook County, Treasurer Maria Pappas said her office is aware of the collar county proposals, but at this point she has not discussed enacting similar measures with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. However, she said she has a planned conference call with Preckwinkle on Friday at which point she hopes to have a “meeting of the minds.”

Cook County’s property tax calendar is different from the collars. The first installment was due in early March and the second is due Aug. 1. Because the due date for the first installment has already passed, any potential changes would apply to the second installment, Pappas said. Pappas added that her main concern right now is how her office will be able to print and mail property tax bills if social distancing restrictions the governor and mayor have pushed to help contain the coronavirus continue. Pappas said her office typically would need to start that process by early June in order to send out the bills by July 1.

“This is coming around the bend and the problem is, everything is shut down right now,” Pappas said. “I’ve got to talk to the president.”

Representatives for Preckwinkle confirmed the two have a scheduled conference call on Friday, but provided no other comment on potential property tax relief measures.