Berrios supports Arab American community
Arab-American community benefits as Assessor Joseph Berrios returns $1.8 million to schools and municipalities in South and Southwest Cook County
Money is part of $30 million collected to date and more than $50 million billed through Erroneous Exemptions Program created by the Berrios administration
CHICAGO – Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios has announced that the most recent return of money recovered from erroneous exemptions includes $1.81 million paid to schools, municipalities and other taxing bodies in South and Southwest Cook County. Overall, $31M recovered and $50M billed thus far. The communities benefitting include those with significant numbers of Arab-American residents.
This would-be lost revenue has been collected since a law conceived by Assessor Berrios, who helped pass it through the Illinois General Assembly, took effect in 2013. Before Berrios became Assessor, there was no system or law allowing such collections. Savings continue every year because these erroneous exemptions remain eliminated from future tax years.
Townships which received these latest funds included Berwyn, Bloom, Bremen, Calumet, Cicero, Lemont, Lyons, Orland, Palos, Proviso, Rich, Riverside, Stickney, Thornton and Worth. Specific taxing bodies included those involving education, police, fire, public health, mental health, roads, bridges and general assistance.
“I have visited mosques, churches and community centers everywhere from Bridgeview to Orland Park, the South Side of Chicago to Albany Park and other areas. At every gathering, I meet the hardworking people of these communities and I am reminded how all taxpayers benefit when this money comes back to their schools and municipalities,” Assessor Berrios said.
Berrios added, “All four grandparents of my Deputy Assessor for Communications and Community Outreach, Tom Shaer, were Lebanese and my Deputy Assessor for Information Technology is of Syrian and Palestinian descent. They agree with the importance I place on caring about Arab-Americans and every person in Cook County. We’re all in this together. The return of these funds is vital to the South, Southwest and every area – so it is greatly important to me and my staff.”
The Assessor’s self-funded Erroneous Exemption Unit investigates any claims of erroneous exemptions and routinely reviews tens of thousands of Property Identification Numbers (PINs). The Cook County Assessor’s Office (CCAO) can then identify taxpayers and properties receiving the fraudulent exemptions, including the many which began years ago under the previous assessor’s administration.
An eligible person is allowed to have an exemption (property tax deduction) on only the home that is his or her primary residence. The law allows CCAO to recoup funds from those who have improperly received Homeowner, Senior, Disabled Persons or Disabled Veterans Exemptions. It provides for the collection and distribution of resulting unpaid property taxes, penalties and interest.
Assessor Berrios added, “Previously, there was nothing in place to get this money back and deter the erroneous exemptions from continuing in the future. The success of the law has shown just how much it was needed. Otherwise, the revenue would be lost. I will not stop in these efforts to recover what belongs to the honest taxpayers of Cook County.”
Cook County Budget Director Tanya Anthony 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.”
After an investigation is complete, a bill is mailed to the taxpayer. The taxpayer may request a hearing regarding his or her case. If a bill is not paid after 30 days, the staff sends out a second notice before a lien is placed on the home. CCAO utilizes the LexisNexis Homestead Exemption Fraud Detection Solution as a tool at the starting point of investigations.
“Cook County is showing that it is a trusted steward of taxpayer dollars, committed to discovering and correcting improper tax benefits, as well as detecting and preventing fraud,” said LexisNexis Risk Solutions Chief Executive Officer for Government Haywood Talcove.
Talcove added, “County governments are experiencing difficult economic times and we applaud Cook County’s leadership in aggressively tackling this challenge with new technology and innovative approaches.”
Local taxing bodies, such as school districts, located in each of the County’s 38 townships receive the money collected due from the erroneous exemption billings. The total amount of money being distributed varies, depending on which areas of the County the erroneous exemptions were in.
The returned money originated with people who erroneously received the homeowner and other exemption tax breaks. Again, this work has been done in only the past four years; it includes $19.2 million currently being pursued. CCAO has more than 2,000 liens in place on debtor properties, representing $7.3 million in additional tax revenue that is earning 1.5 percent interest each month.
“Arab-American communities and all the population is entitled to this money and are thrilled to receive it. But the pleasure is all ours because recovering millions of dollars for taxpayers is a very satisfying aspect of the Assessor’s Office responsibilities. At a time when schools and municipalities struggle with budget issues, it is helpful for this money to go back to serving the community,” Assessor Berrios said.
Berrios stressed the importance of taxpayers only paying their fair share of property taxes and encourages any taxpayer with knowledge of erroneous exemptions to notify his office. Taxpayers may anonymously report erroneous exemptions at whistleblowing.cookcountyassessor.com.
“I am extremely proud of the all the work my office has done with regards to the Erroneous Exemption Program. It will continue to have a dramatic and positive impact not only on schools and other local taxing bodies but also on taxpayers throughout the County – including Arab-Americans.” Berrios added.
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Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.
"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."
Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
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Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
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