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Some Cook County Businesses Say Sky-High 2020 Property Tax Bills Could Shut Them Down

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Some Cook County business owners have been left wondering if there were typos on their 2020 property tax bills – as their taxes soared 300, 400, or even 1,000 percent this year.

CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey found businesses across the county are bearing the brunt, as shown in a new report from the Cook County Treasurer's office. Some business owners said they are facing property tax bills that could even close them down, in a year when business was already down thanks to COVID-19,

"Well, my mother and dad started the company in 1947," said Phil Bracht.

Bracht's H&B Machine Corporation has survived three quarters of a century – and has undergone a pivot from printing presses to portable hoists for construction. It has also survived a global pandemic up to this point.

"If I compare March of 2020 to March of 2021, it's down minimally - 25 percent," Bracht said.

But now, he worries H&B won't survive this year's property tax bill.

"I was stunned," Bracht said.

His $9,000 bill jumped nearly 400 percent to more than $43,000 - without any changes to his 5,000-square-foot 1930s-era building at 1943 W. Walnut St. on the Near West Side.

Bracht: "No, I can't afford it."

Hickey: "What would happen?"

Bracht: "We would have to probably close down the business and sell the building. But with a 42 or 43,000-thousand-dollar tax bill on it, who's going to buy it?"

James Skvaril is vice president of Production Craft Inc., located at 1937 W. Walnut St. next door to H&B. And his business is having much the same problem.

"If we have to pay 60, 70, 80 thousand dollars a year in taxes for a business like ours, I don't know where that's going to come from," he said.

H&B and Production Craft are among several neighbors now desperately fighting to appeal their bills.

"Getting a 20 percent notice would be understandable," Skvaril said. "But 300 percent? I don't know how we can afford that."

A brand new analysis of nearly 1.8 million bills by county Treasurer Maria Pappas' office found that three groups were disproportionately impacted by 2020's property tax increases:

1. Majority Black and Latino communities;
2. the south suburbs;
3. You guessed it, businesses.

"I'm really concerned, which is why I put this report out," Pappas said. "We're letting them know that 87,000 commercial buildings have been impacted with these increases."

The report found that Cook County businesses are being billed more than $7 billion in 2020, an increase of $410 million. Obviously, these businesses are seeing much bigger increases than that.

Now they're appealing, and praying.

"I'm not alone," Bracht said. "I mean, there are a lot of companies that will close because they won't be able to afford to pay the taxes, and then the double-edged sword there is then people are going to be out of jobs."

The county will collect more than $16 billion in property taxes this year - an increase of $534 million.

As to the cause of the exorbitant jumps in property tax bills, Treasurer Pappas pointed to schools - which rely heavily on property taxes. She said it's time for a new source of school funding.

The full Treasurer's report is below.

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