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Cook County Assesssor Issues Letters About Pandemic-Related Property Tax Break, But It Isn't Good News For Everyone

CHICAGO (CBS) -- In what seems like a gift from the tax collector, Chicago and north suburban homeowners have been getting letters in the mail notifying them of a pandemic-related tax break.

But as CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov reported Tuesday, it is not good news for everyone – and it may not translate into substantial savings either.

The letter might look like money in the mail to hundreds of thousands of Cook County homeowners. It is from the county Assessor, telling them their property value assessments have been adjusted down because of COVID-19.

Lower assessments mean a lower tax bill, right?

"In almost each instance, someone will get some sort of reduction," said property tax attorney Gary H. Smith.

But Smith said it may not be much of a reduction for many people, because the assessment decrease percentage does not translate to an equal percentage in dollars saved. Blame the property tax formula for that.

"A reduction of 8 percent in assessment does not translate to 8 or 12 percent reduction in tax," Smith said.

Smith acknowledged for those seeing any savings, something is better than nothing during these tough times. According to the Cook County Assessor's office, there are several factors going into who gets what size COVID adjustment.

One of them is the anticipated unemployment rate in certain areas. An Assessor's office map reflects that parallel between unemployment and the size of property value adjustment.

And some rental properties will likely get bigger decreases than single-family homes because of lost rental income too.

"There will be some winners and some losers in this," Smith said.

That is because while rates may change, the total number of property tax dollars needed by taxing bodies will not. Some other property owners have to make up the difference.

So the losers in this, at least right now, will be local businesses.

"More significantly, commercial properties are getting no decrease in this scenario," Smith said.

The adjustment is for this tax year, but you will not see the change until you get your property tax bill in the summer of 2021.

Homeowners in the south and west Cook County suburbs south of North Avenue will not be getting notices, because they are being reassessed right now. The COVID adjustment will be automatically included in their 2021 bill.

As to how hard commercial property owners will be hit, it is not clear at this point. An Assessor's office representative said they are reviewing that right now.

For those curious about how their area is being adjusted, a map can be found at this link.

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