CHICAGO (STMW) — Cook County property owners can now attempt to lower their tax bills online — potentially saving time and hassle for thousands of county residents.

Those unhappy with the assessed values of their homes — used to determine property taxes — can go to and click on “file a complaint online,” officials announced Tuesday. Previously, to challenge an assessment — known as filing a complaint — the owners of Cook County’s 1.8 million commercial and residential properties had to go in person to a Board of Review office to get the paper forms and then file them — in triplicate. Now all but a limited number of commercial property owners will be able to do appeal via the Internet.

“People can file in their pajamas if they want to,” said Kelley Quinn, a spokeswoman for Assessor Joe Berrios, who sets the value of properties for taxing purposes.

Officials couldn’t say how many more property owners might now appeal their assessments. The Board of Review received 439,000 appeals in 2009, up from 247,000 in 2006.

To appeal online, property owners still need to provide evidence of the overassessment — by possibly showing error in the description of the property or by showing neighbors with similar homes have lower assessments, officials said. Any supporting evidence, though, must be mailed within five business days of the online complaint being filed.

It will still take up to eight weeks for an appeal to go through the process. If successful, the new assessed value will be used to calculate the second installment bill for 2011 — which is sent out in fall 2012.

Why did it take so long for the county to enter the digital age?

County tax officials say the costs of putting the filing system online if they had used an outside contractor — $500,000 — was a barrier, because “it’s tough to get funding for new projects in a tough economy,” said Larry Rogers, one of three members of the tax appeals board. Political tensions also led to the delay, officials admitted.

“In the past, we’ve had frictions between offices,” Berrios said. “We look to work together to make sure government works very hard for the taxpayers of Cook County.”

The county instead was able to do the project in-house. Doing so meant they didn’t have to pay an outside contractor, but officials Tuesday could not say how much money it cost to do it themselves.

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