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Avoiding the ‘pain’ of property taxes until the last day possible

Cook County property taxes were due Tuesday. Some folks waited until the very last day to pay their bills.

Cook County treasurer’s office on Tuesday, March 3, deadline for paying the first installment on property tax bills.
People line up inside Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas’ office Tuesday, the deadline to pay the first installment of their property taxes.
Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times

The office opened half an hour early Tuesday, the clerks — almost without exception — welcomed customers with a smile and even provided little bowls filled with hard candies.

None of that quelled Peter Walsh’s outrage.

“If the city doesn’t think this is going to drive people out of the city or the county — but especially on the North Side of the city, where we’re getting killed — they’re nuts,” said the 61-year-old civil trial attorney as he left Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas’ office.

Having written a check for about $11,000 for his 2019 first-installment property taxes, Walsh said he’s giving serious thought to selling his house and moving into an apartment — or leaving Illinois altogether — just so he doesn’t have to deal with the property taxes here.

Grumblings and grim faces were common among those who chose to wait until the very last day — without incurring a penalty — to pay property taxes. Many paid cash, some mumbled in broken English, taking advantage of a younger family member to help with translation. Several of those not rushing to work stopped to say they chose to wait until the last day because they didn’t want to have to fork over their hard-earned cash any sooner than absolutely necessary.

The last time Cook County property taxes were due — in August 2019 — about 1,700 visited Pappas’ office in person on the last day, about 0.1 percent of the county’s total number of property taxpayers, Pappas said Tuesday.

There appeared to be few complaints Tuesday about the counter service — just the idea of parting with so much money all at one time.

Pappas was quick to tout her website, where some 643,000 people paid their property taxes in 2018, compared with about 16,000 back in 2001, she said.

“In July, when the taxes were due in August, 1 million people went to my website,” Pappas said. “I ask you to ask any government in the United States of America: Who went a million times to anybody’s government website? It’s unheard of.”

That may be, but Cheryl Graham, 75, of Evanston, wasn’t buying it.

“I’ve had three occasions when my computer was hacked and my credit card was stolen. So I just keep ... online payments to a minimum,” said Graham, a retired researcher for World Book Encyclopedia who lives in Evanston. “I like to see a person, I like to have it on paper, I like to see them stamp the receipt and give it back to me,”

But Graham, who took the train in from Evanston and paid about a $1,500 bill that included a senior discount, said she doesn’t mind paying property taxes.

“The government does a lot for us,” she said “If we didn’t pay, we wouldn’t get our streets repaired .... All the services that people don’t think about, I really appreciate. How would we live without the county paying for services?”