Opinion

Technology helps county treasurer serve multilingual residents

Our complex property tax system confuses many taxpayers. Many have a tough time understanding assessments, exemptions, tax levies and other terms we use to describe parts of the system.

Paying taxes can be even more difficult for people who primarily speak a language other than English. There are a lot of them in Cook County. According to the Census Bureau, 35.8% of the county’s 5.27 million residents speak a language other than English in their homes. That’s about 1.8 million people.

When I became treasurer in 1998, I realized we needed to better serve multilingual residents. Since then, my office has created outreach materials that explain the tax system in English and 27 other languages.

Our website, cookcountytreasurer.com, can easily be translated into 133 languages. We created short informational videos in English, Spanish, Polish, Arabic, Cantonese and Mandarin.

You can use our website to download a copy of your tax bill, pay your taxes and change your mailing address. You can search the past 20 years of bill payments to find out if you are owed a refund for past duplicate or overpayments. You can discover ways to potentially reduce your tax bill by applying for exemptions.

Many homeowners are unaware they are eligible for significant savings through a homeowner’s exemption simply for living in their home as their principal residence. Another commonly missed exemption is granted to senior citizens over the age of 65. The Senior Freeze Exemption is available to senior citizens whose annual household income is $65,000 or less.

You can find out if you’re missing exemptions by using the purple box, “Your Property Tax Overview,” on the treasurer’s homepage. Type in your address and a picture of your home should appear to let you know you’re researching the correct property. You can use our website to search for more than $93 million in available refunds and $57 million in missed exemptions.

We can issue refunds for missed exemptions going back four years. Sadly, many homeowners have missed out on exemptions for decades. Our office is committed to helping as many people as possible better understand the property tax system and potentially save money on their tax bills.

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