(CBS) — More than $65 million a year. That’s the Cook County Assessor’s estimate of how much revenue is lost from property owners cheating or mistakenly getting tax breaks from exemptions.
The Better Government Association and CBS 2 have been reporting for years on some flagrant examples, and now there’s another one involving a politician with a well-known name in Democratic politics: Patrick Daley Thompson.
Thompson is the nephew of Richard M. Daley and grandson of Richard J. Daley, and the first grandchild to run for public office. He’s now a commissioner at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.
From 2001 to 2003, he owned a Bridgeport home on Parnell and received a homeowner’s exemption. Then he sold that house and bought the Bridgeport Bungalow made famous by his grandfather at 3536 S. Lowe. He properly got a homeowner’s exemption there.
Under the law, you can only have one homeowner’s exemption. And that has to be your primary residence.
But just two doors down from the Lowe address where Thompson lives, there’s a two-flat that he also owns. And it also has had a homeowner’s exemption for the last 12 years.
“He is a lawyer,” says Andy Shaw, head of the Better Government Association. “There’s no excuse for not understanding the law. There is no excuse for not following the rules.”
After inquiries, the county declared the exemptions were erroneous and calculated what Thompson owed. He paid back a total of $11,611 that he’d received in tax breaks from 2001 to 2012.
“It’s nice that he’s paid the money back,” Shaw says. “It’s unacceptable that he benefited for such a long time from a law that he should have been acutely aware of.”
Thompson tells Zekman a clerical error is to blame.
But a spokeswoman for the Cook County assessor disagrees, saying computer records confirm that a homeowner’s exemption was applied for in 2001. The office cannot retrieve the application, however, because “this was 12 years ago and we do not store them that far back.”
Thompson says he did not apply for the break. He never saw the homeowner’s exemption information on a tax bill because his lender pays the taxes, he says.
“I did not know that I was getting that exemption,” Thompson says. “When I did find out about it, I immediately remedied it.”
Now the BGA says the county needs to do much more.
“In this computer age it’s outrageous that Cook County can’t figure out who is claiming multiple exemptions,” Shaw says. “It’s ridiculous that we have to keep telling them about the mistakes they are making.”
A spokeswoman for the assessor’s office says officials there are preparing to launch a new computer system next year that will catch improper multiple exemptions.
And as of Jan. 1, a new state law allows assessors to get back the money plus 10 percent interest –- and in the worst cases, a 50 percent penalty.
Meanwhile, during an amnesty period, owners can voluntarily report any improper exemptions they may be receiving and pay back the funds without paying a penalty. So far, more than $800,000 has been collected by property owners taking advantage of the amnesty period.
To check for exemptions, check your bill or visit the website of the Cook County Treasurer’s Office.