Cook County, Illinois is recovering millions in revenue after implementing new technology to ensure that property tax exemptions are properly noted. The county is working with LexisNexis Risk Solutions to implement its Homestead Exemption Fraud Detection Solution, and ward off erroneous exemption claims.
Shortly after taking office, Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios was bombarded with a high volume of emails and phone calls regarding taxpayers improperly receiving erroneous and multiple property tax exemptions. As a result, he proposed a bill – Fraudulent Exemption Legislation (SB41) that was designed to solve the exemption issue.
“We are now averaging a half a million in collections a month and averaging one million a month in billing,” says Maura Kownacki, a spokesperson with the Cook County Assessors office in an interview with CivSource. “Prior to this law the Assessor’s Office had now real authority to recover money from taxpayers.”
Cook County is using a phased approach to detect the erroneous filings, first focusing its efforts on homestead exemptions allocated to senior citizens and ineligible parking spaces, and then a full review of property tax exemptions claimed in each of its 38 townships. Since the new law was passed last year, $5.1 million in revenue has been collected, $9.4 million billed, and $4.3 million is currently outstanding.
The county first sent bills in March of this year, making for a quick timeline in terms of revenue recovery. A new erroneous exemption department has also been created within the Assessor’s office to investigate claims. The overall contract with LexisNexis amounts to a $1.3 million award for the company, and Kownacki notes that the revenue that has and will be collected has far surpassed the initial investment. “Other counties have also inquired as to how the process works now that they have seen the success of Assessor Berrios model,” she adds.
The county has also used LexisNexis for cross referencing records against local death notices. “By doing this, unwarranted senior exemptions were taken off the tax rolls saving the county over $6.2 million,” Kownacki said.