March 21, 2012
At its next meeting, the Committee on Legislation and Intergovernmental Relations of the Cook County Board of Commissioners will consider a resolution requiring the County Assessor, Clerk, Recorder of Deeds, Treasurer and President of the Board of Commissioners to draft an interoffice agreement establishing an Office of Tax Administration. The Civic Federation has historically supported modernizing the County’s outmoded, inefficient governmental structure. In its 2010 Cook County Modernization Report, the Federation recommended a unified property tax administration office as a way to streamline functions related to property taxes and eliminate costly duplicative services. During the past several weeks, the Federation also supported a proposed referendum that would have allowed county voters to consider a consolidation of the Cook County Recorder of Deeds and Clerk’s offices. This modernization effort, sponsored by Commissioner Fritchey, failed in committee.
The proposed tax administration office resolution is sponsored by Commissioners Suffredin, Daley, Gainer, Goslin, Schneider and Silvestri. The resolution requires that the elected officials noted in the preceding paragraph draft an interoffice agreement “consolidating all functions of county government related to the administration, collection, redemption and exemptions of property taxes, as well as issuing certificates of errors and setting tax rates.” Provisions within the resolution indicate that the agreement must also create an appointed Tax Administrator to head the new office and that all assessment functions be maintained by the Assessor. County officials will have 60 days after passage of the resolution to submit the draft agreement to the Board of Commissioners. The Civic Federation supports the effort to consolidate property tax administration and retain a separate assessor’s office because merging the assessment function could compromise the integrity and independence of the property assessment process. The Federation further supports an appointed head of the unified tax administration office, rather than an elected official, because the functions related to property tax administration involve applying procedures or regulations as prescribed by law and do not involve discretionary decision making.
In December 2010, the Civic Federation released its position on the Cook County property tax system, which found the system to be excessively complex and difficult for ordinary taxpayers to understand. Currently, the administration of property tax functions are primarily handled by three different elected officials (Assessor, Clerk and Treasurer), leading to taxpayer confusion about whom to contact with questions or complaints about the tax. The lines of responsibility are nearly impossible for ordinary taxpayers to discern and politicians exploit this fact to their political advantage. The Civic Federation proposed that a unified property tax administration office similar to the one proposed via the County resolution on March 13th be created that would merge the Treasurer’s office; the County Clerk’s tax extension, tax redemption and map divisions; the part of the Recorder’s office dealing with property records; and the Auditor’s property functions. The Federation believes that a tax system should be simple enough that taxpayers can understand it, collectors can effectively administer it and lawmakers can be held accountable for it.
A property tax administration office would help remove one of the fundamental impediments to a more efficient and effective Cook County government: its complex governance structure, including the excessive fragmentation of executive authority and the disbursement of related functions over several departments. The reform would additionally help improve efficiency and allow the electorate to hold the appropriate official accountable for property tax administration matters, thereby improving transparency.
 See New Item 7 added to the agenda for the March 13, 2012 meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners available on the website of the Office of the Secretary to the Board at http://legacy.cookcountygov.com/secretary/new%20items.html
 There are also two additional agencies that hear property tax appeals, the Board of Review and Property Tax Appeal Board, as well as the courts.