More Counties Are Giving Extra Time To Pay Property Taxes

May 1, 2020

Credit NPR Illinois

Massive layoffs and furloughs around the state will make it difficult for some to pay their property taxes on time.  Some Illinois counties are trying to ease the pain by delaying the mailing of the bills. Others have extended deadlines. And most common are counties waiving interest on late payments.  

In Sangamon County, the seat of state government, County Treasurer Joe Aeillo says the dealine for paying has been extended by a week.  For those still having trouble, the county is waiving interest for three months.

“And we anticipate a lot of people will still pay on June 12. But for those that are struggling, this will give them a little bit of a reprieve,” he said. 

That reprieve means Sangamon County taxpayers will now have until September 11th before penalties kick in.  There are 170 taxing bodies in the county.

“We know that we're going to collect money before, and during and after the first payment due date. But we know it's probably going to be less than 50-percent of what we normally get” said Aeillo.

On the other side of the coin are all the school districts, park districts and other local bodies counting on that tax money.

Ryan Boike is the superintendent Belleville School District 118, which comnsists of nearly one dozen  elementary and junior high schools in St. Clair County. The county is planning to mail out property tax bills later than usual and will be voting soon on offering an interest-free grace period after the deadline. 

The summer months are when Boike counts on that first tax payment to cover costs.  The district is getting a five million dollar line of credit, just in case. 

“We’re optimistic we could get by without it, but it’s going to be really close," Boike said. 

If you travel about an hour east on Interstate 64 from Belleville, you will end up in Mount Vernon. The local high school district superintendent, Jeff Fritchnitch, will be retiring this summer.

Mount Vernon is in Jefferson County, and the county board still must decide if it is going to offer some relief for property owners.  Fritchnitch expects the school district to have enough cash on hand to meet expenses, should property taxes be slow in arrive. Nonetheless, the district will hold off on building projects planned around a new high school.  That includes tennis courts and lights for the softball and baseball fields.

Fritchnitch says he is concerned more with how money from the state will flow, now that the economy is throwing a wrench into the state budget.

“We need to not be thinking about this as a one year situation, but actually multiple years. We are certainly looking at alternative revenue streams and borrowing," he said.

In Chicagoland, Kane County has decided to waive interest for the first month.    

“This is a very difficult time," said Treasurer Dave Rickert. "The small business community in my county is hurting. The average residential taxpayer is hurting. We would like to do more, but we have to balance that with our need to provide funding for our first responders.”  

“I had conversations with some of our taxing districts, particularly the city of Aurora, and some of the school districts there were concerned as to when money would be coming in. Initially, we considered a 90 day proposal, but one of the things we considered, after talking to the taxing districts, was we want to be able to enable them to continue to provide support relief to our first responders.  Which is why we're only going with a 30 day waiver in Kane County. So most of our taxing districts have reserve and contingency funds to where that level of forbearance will not be an issue for them,” Rickert added.

The economic shutdown has made it a tough time to be a tax collector. Rock Island County Treasurer Louisa Ewert is also  president  of the Illinois Treasurers Association.   Ewert says it is difficult to balance the competing needs of taxpayers and those that rely on tax money.  

“It creates a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation” she said.  “We feel the taxpayers on one end are having financial hardships. But at the same time a lot of the taxing districts are also facing financial hardships in the coming months.

A guaranteed cash flow this year will come from banks. People with mortgages usually have their taxes in escrow.

“We're working with banks to make sure those escrow payments are made in a timely manner and paid on or before June 12. And so far, they've all agreed to participate with that and we are hopeful that that will come in as scheduled."

"Along with the goodwill of the (taxpayers) who understand how important it is to keep this going, because those property tax dollars go to school districts to go to fire protection districts. They go to the public health workers. They go to police and fire. So, these are all the people that are still working and providing the services during the most difficult time. Those tax dollars are so important right now and if you can't pay, we understand that, but if you can we ask that you do”, said Aeillo.

Not all counties have taken steps to help out property owners.   It is expected that more will act soon. For example, the collar counties of Lake and Will have waited, although they could be considering similar changes soon.