Hundreds of Lake County properties were overtaxed, officials admit

Written by, Russell Lissau – Daily Herald, 5/23/19

Hundreds of Lake County property owners received tax bills this month that wrongly demanded too much money because of computer errors that eliminated legitimate credits, officials admitted Thursday.

The majority of those mistakes affected properties in the Wauconda area, said Bob Glueckert, the county’s new chief assessment officer.

Data errors also mistakenly added undeserved credits to dozens of tax bills, he said.

Additionally, as part of an investigation into the problem, Glueckert’s staff uncovered dozens of incorrectly awarded credits that weren’t related to computer glitches.

Bills with updated information will be mailed to the affected owners, and their due dates will be extended.

The inaccurate bills reflect a small fraction of the more than 300,000 bills mailed out May 1. But Glueckert, who took over as chief assessment officer just last week, is taking them seriously.

“There’s a taxpayer behind every one of those bills, and we want to make sure (they’re) right,” he said.

Officials are urging people to examine their bills.

“We need to do a better job educating the public on how to read their tax bills, how to apply for exemptions and how to confirm they are receiving all of the exemptions they qualify for,” said county board member Dick Barr, a Round Lake Beach Republican.

How it happened

Lake County tax bills are mailed to property owners every May. Payments are due in two installments, in June and September.

Bills are calculated by the chief county assessment office, but payments are made to the county treasurer.

Various credits, called exemptions, are available to property owners seeking tax relief. They’re entered into the calculation that yields a bill.

For example, a property that is the owner’s primary residence should receive a homestead exemption that lowers the assessed value by $6,000.

Exemptions also are available for seniors, military veterans, people who make significant improvements to their homes or who rebuild homes after natural disasters, and others.

Exemption-related errors are rare, but they happen every year.

In 2018, more than 3,200 bills that incorrectly lacked exemptions were discovered and recalculated in Lake County, Glueckert said. That’s about 1 percent of the bills that went out.

Many of the errors discovered this month were connected to the implementation of new computer software by the chief assessor’s office late last year, Glueckert said. The mistakes were caused by the software itself or in the data entry process, he said.

County officials were alerted to the mistakes by property owners and Wauconda Township Assessor Pat Oaks, who had discovered a widespread problem in her jurisdiction.

Officials determined home-improvement exemptions for about 350 properties in Wauconda Township didn’t calculate properly, resulting in inflated tax bills, Glueckert said.

Countywide, the owners of an additional 47 properties received bills that were too high because different exemptions didn’t calculate properly, he said.

Some data from the old computer system didn’t transfer to the new program properly, resulting in 73 property owners’ receiving tax bills that were too low, Glueckert added.

The discovery of the computer glitches led assessment staffers to uncover 290 homes throughout the county that received homestead exemptions even they no longer are their owners’ primary residences.

Those errors were unrelated to the software change, Glueckert said. Rather, the property owners hadn’t notified the county that they live elsewhere most of the time. The credits should have been removed from tax calculations but hadn’t been.

All the errors are being certified and new bills will be sent, Glueckert said.

A call for diligence

Even though remedies are in the works, county board members aren’t pleased.

“We all pay a lot in taxes, and when errors occur, people can lose faith,” said board Chairwoman Sandy Hart, a Lake Bluff Democrat.

Hawthorn Woods Democrat Jessica Vealitzek said she wants to know what internal checks are in place to prevent errors like these from happening — and why they failed.

“We’ve got to be over-diligent about being accurate, before tax bills go out,” Vealitzek said.

Barr is glad the affected property owners will receive corrected bills. But he raised concern about the manpower and actual costs needed to fix the errors and to generate and mail new bills.

“(That’s) an expense taxpayers need not bear,” Barr said.

In addition to these errors, the chief assessment office has corrected more than 1,000 bills this year following inquiries from property owners who forgot to apply for exemptions or who discovered other random problems, Glueckert said.

To review your bill online or get more information about the tax process, visit lakecountyil.gov/2854/Property-Tax-Information.

To report an error on your bill, call the chief assessment office at (847) 377-2050, the county treasurer’s office at (847) 377-2323 or your local township assessor.