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Chicago’s New Property Tax is Impossible to Implement?

by | Nov 2, 2015

Impossible, you say? A computer problem is impossible in this day and age?

City of Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel just announced a politically difficult City of Chicago property tax hike, the first in more than a decade. As part of this announcement, Mayor Emmanuel offered up that “Homeowners living in homes valued at $250,000 or less will see little or no increase and most…will see a decrease in their overall bill” due to an expanded homestead exemption.

This action elicited a very curious comment from the head of Chicago’s other major layer of government—Cook County. Cook County would be responsible for implementing this tax increase. According to this article from Crain’s Chicago Business, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and her County Treasurer Maria Pappas don’t think that this is going to be technically possible to implement!

From Crain’s: “We can’t do it,” said Preckwinkle, referring to an expanded homestead exemption Emanuel wants, a measure that would have to be administered by the county’s property-taxing system. “There’s no way we can get our computer software to do it.”

…Preckwinkle said her understanding of what is and is not technically possible came largely from Pappas.

Pappas, in a phone call…did confirm that, indeed, the county’s current, antiquated computer system cannot neatly divide properties and their tax rates between those located in and out of the city.

“They can’t do it. I’m 95 percent sure they can’t do it,” said Pappas, noting that the county only recently began to move to replace its quarter-century-old mainframe computer.

Perhaps an outside technical consultant might find a way to crunch the numbers, Pappas said.

Of course these problems can be resolved with a bit of effort and the right software. And Mayor Emmanuel seems to agree.

From Crain’s: Democratic legislative leaders nonetheless have promised to push the legislation, but if Preckwinkle and Pappas are right, some lawmakers might conclude they have no reason to make a tough vote.

“Expanding the homeowner exemption is the fairest way to protect middle-class property tax payers,” Emanuel spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said in an email. “Chicago is a global technology hub with some of the world’s leading programming experts. We’re confident that the technical changes that are necessary to help to ease burden on taxpayers can be accomplished.”

If the Cook County Assessor’s Office had InRule (or another rules engine) at their disposal, this would be an easy problem to solve. Simply open your ruleapp which manages the property tax calculations and modify the existing decision tables and other rules with the updated logic. You could even version your ruleapp to permit retention of the previous taxing structure. Depending upon the complexity of the changes involved, Ms. Preckwinckle herself might even be able to implement the changes!

Impossible, they say? Mayor Emmanuel is correct: computer problems are not impossible with the right software and a bit of know-how.




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