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Lowering the property assessment of a commercial property cost $2,000, according to the feds. A home? That was a $1,000 bribe to a Board of Review employee who insisted he was sharing the bribes with co-workers.

Cook FBI

A Cook County Board of Review employee allegedly counts thousands of dollars in bribe money for lowering property assessments, according to a photograph attached to a federal affidavit obtained by the Sun-Times. The Sun-Times is not naming the employee and has pixelated his face; he is not charged. (Federal affidavit from U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago)

The FBI has been investigating a Cook County Board of Review employee who allegedly used his position to lower property assessments in exchange for thousands of dollars in cash bribes, according to a federal court affidavit obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

That employee also said the money would be split with others in the office, insisting that, “I’m just the middle guy” and that certain colleagues had factored the cash into vacation plans as the recent Fourth of July holiday approached, according to the 45-page document.

The federal probe dates to at least January 2019 and involves an unnamed individual who was secretly cooperating with the feds and is separately under criminal investigation, according to the affidavit. The Sun-Times is not naming the Board of Review employee at the center of the probe because records show he has not been criminally charged. He could not be reached Monday for comment.

The revelation of alleged corruption could deal another blow to public confidence in Cook County’s property tax system, just as tax bills are supposed to be hitting mailboxes. The bills already might be delayed because of “major errors” the Sun-Times exposed in a $250 million-a-year program that offers a tax break to certain seniors.

The Board of Review employee at the center of the feds’ investigation allegedly offered to have property assessments lowered for bribes — $2,000 for every commercial property; $1,000 for every residential property. Assessments are a key factor in calculating property tax bills.

Read the full Chicago Sun*Times article here.

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Biden MCC

President Joe Biden promised jobs and better access to education in an appeal that may resonate with suburban swing voters during a historic trip to McHenry County College.

“America is back,” Biden said Wednesday, promising to fund transportation through an infrastructure package that faces opposition in Congress.

“Think how life will be when it’s quicker to drive on Randall Road,” Biden quipped, singling out a local traffic hot spot.

It’s the president’s first visit to Illinois since his inauguration and he picked a county where a majority backed former President Donald Trump in 2020.

And, outside the college, along Route 14 in Crystal Lake, a large crowd of Trump supporters gathered with flags and banners to rail against Biden.

“I think everything they’re (Biden administration) doing is harmful to our nation right now,” Crystal Lake resident Fred Bock told the Northwest Herald.

McHenry Board Chairman Michael Buehler, a Republican, said it was “exciting” that Biden picked the county. “It makes sense. McHenry County really exemplifies the best of the best Illinois has to offer.”

Other local Republicans weren’t impressed.

State Rep. Martin McLaughlin of Barrington Hills, who was not at Wednesday’s event, said that “over and over, more empty promises are coming from political elites passing more unrestricted spending programs that barely if ever accomplish what they promise.”

Read more here.

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Biden

President Joe Biden will visit the northwestern suburb of Crystal Lake next week, a White House official told NBC 5.

Seth Schuster, a regional communications director at the White House, confirmed the visit, but didn’t provide details, including a reason for the trip or where exactly the president would stop.

The president has made two other recent visits in the Midwest.

Biden traveled to Traverse City, Michigan Saturday as part of an effort to highlight the nation’s progress against COVID-19 and promote the infrastructure plan he negotiated with a group of senators. Last week, the president toured a La Crosse, Wisconsin transit facility and delivered remarks on the infrastructure deal.

Source

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DL

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WBBM NEWSRADIO) — Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White announced Monday that expiration dates for driver’s licenses and ID cards have been extended an additional five months, from Aug. 1, 2021, to Jan. 1, 2022.

The new Jan. 1, 2022 extension also includes expiration dates that will occur between July and December of this year. As a result, expired driver’s licenses and ID cards will remain valid until Jan. 1, 2022, so customers do not need to rush into Driver Services facilities, especially during hot weather. This extension does not apply to commercial driver’s licenses (CDL) and CDL learner’s permits.

“Extending expiration dates until January 1, 2022, means people with an expired driver’s license or ID card do not need to rush into a Driver Services facility immediately,” White said in a statement. “During hot weather, I would suggest residents consider delaying visits to Driver Services facilities. But if you must visit a facility, please come prepared to wait outside due to continued social distancing efforts, which limits the number of people inside a facility at one time. We are allowing more people in the facilities at one time due to relaxed protocols.”

White noted that Senate Bill 2232, which Governor Pritzker signed into law Friday and had passed the House and Senate by overwhelming margins, authorizes the Secretary of State’s office to extend driver’s license and ID card expiration dates to Jan. 1, 2022. Senate Bill 2232 was sponsored by state Sen. Laura Murphy (D-Des Plaines) and state Rep. Michelle Mussman (D-Schaumburg).

White continues to urge the public to consider using online services when possible instead of visiting a facility due to heavy customer volume. White has greatly expanded online services and encourages the public to visit his office’s website at www.cyberdriveillinois.com. Many transactions can be conducted online, including the purchase of license plate stickers, obtaining a duplicate driver’s license or ID card, and renewing driver’s licenses and ID cards, including Real IDs, for those who are eligible.

Read more here.

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Property Tax Inflation

Residents of Cook County don’t need to be told that they shoulder a heavy property tax burden. Illinois has the second-highest real estate property taxes in the country, and property taxes in Cook County rose at three times the rate of inflation from 2000 to 2019.

But here’s a revelation: The taxes people pay every year understate the extent of the ultimate obligation. Last year, Moody’s Analytics concluded that Illinois has a bigger public pension debt than any other state, amounting to a crushing $25,000 for every man, woman and child living here. Cook County, too, has huge unfunded pension liabilities — and between 2009 and 2018, they more than doubled.

Want to guess who is on the hook for covering most of those obligations? That’s right: Property owners.

A new report by Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas looks at the tax burden in a new way. Her office calculated the total government debt and allocated a share of it to each property on the tax rolls. This is illuminating because not all properties bear the same burden, even if their value is comparable.

As the report says, “Local governments set the levies, or the overall amount of taxes to be collected, in each of their districts. How much of that overall levy is paid by any one individual property owner is determined by the value of their property, relative to the value of all the property within the taxing district.”

The lowest level of debt to property value is in Inverness, an affluent village in the northwestern part of the county. Pappas puts its debt load at less than 7% of its total property value. The heaviest weight, meanwhile, falls mostly on “less thriving areas with predominantly minority populations and less broad tax bases,” the report says. Homeowners in Riverdale, which is 94% African American and has a median annual household income of less than $34,000, pay taxes that are 2½ times higher than those in Inverness, where the typical family’s income exceeds $180,000.

Read the full Chicago Tribune editorial here.

Editorial note: The Inverness Police Department started patrolling the streets of the Village on May 1, 2009 with a non-union force made up of veterans from other regional departments.

Related:Pappas unveils new online tool to weigh government debt burden on individual property owners

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CCCook County – Property owners for the first time can find out what portion of local government debt falls on them, thanks to a new, groundbreaking online tool created by Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas.

“Most reports identify government debt as an amount per person,” Pappas said. “My latest study takes a more targeted approach by showing debt in relation to each property in Cook County.”

The new, unique tool reveals that Willis Tower carries local government debt of nearly $289 million, equal to 41.5% of the iconic skyscraper’s $697 million value. A Riverdale house carries $31,800 in local debt, equal to 48% of its $67,000 value. And the debt on a house on Hodgkins has $127,400 in debt, equal to 25.7% of its $496,000 value.

By contrast, the debt on properties in more affluent, lower-tax areas, like Barrington Hills and Winnetka, falls below 10% of the value of the properties in those locations.

These new calculations are available at cookcountytreasurer.com, where property owners can click the purple box on the homepage and search their address to see their local debt burden compared to the value of their home in both dollar and percentage amounts.

The new methodology also allowed Pappas to better compare the overall debt burdens borne by residents of any Cook County city or village. That exercise revealed the burden of local government debt varies greatly throughout the county, with generally heavier burdens in less-affluent suburbs where the populations are more than 50% Black or Latino. The taxes tend to be much higher in many of those minority areas, an indication that more debt leads to higher property taxes.

“Property purchases in Cook County come with a hidden credit card balance, in the form of local government debt,” Pappas said. “Property owners end up paying down that debt, on top of also covering their mortgage, utility and maintenance costs.”

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53 Greenway

First came the Illinois Prairie Path, one of the first rail-to-trail conversions in the United States. Later, The 606 trail in Chicago attracted crowds of bikers and runners and led to skyrocketing nearby property values. Now, a group of conservationists and elected officials in Lake County are pushing to turn a former proposed tollway corridor into a greenway — a trail through a long, narrow nature preserve.

Illinois lawmakers recently approved a resolution calling for a task force to study alternate uses for the proposed extension of Illinois Route 53 in the northwest suburbs. The effort picks up where Illinois tollway officials left off in 2019 when they dropped plans for the road.

Believers in the project cite it as an example of a popular trend away from highways and greenhouse gas emissions, and toward preservation of natural areas. Critics see it as a boondoggle for a relatively small number of people, rather than a project that could have served 100,000 drivers a day and spurred economic development.

While Republicans traditionally have supported road projects, the resolution passed unanimously in both chambers, suggesting growing bipartisan support for nature paths.

“These become beloved spaces where diverse residents, young and old, flock to get fresh air, walk, bike, and share a moment with each other,” said Gerald Adelmann, president and CEO of the nonprofit Openlands conservation group. “This is our moment to create that kind of legacy for our communities.”

Road builders see it differently. Mike Sturino, president of the Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association, cited widespread past support for the expressway.

“The majority of working people suffer when you pull the plug on needed infrastructure,” Sturino said. “I like bike lanes, but we have to be realistic. It’s shocking when respectable officials are browbeaten by a radical fringe to go along with this reckless move.”

Read more here.

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Masks JBP

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced June 10 that Illinois will move to a full reopening on June 11, but mask mandates and social distancing will remain a mainstay in Illinois schools.

Pritzker said it is critical that schools and day cares use and layer prevention strategies. The two most important ones are universal and correct use of masks, and physical distancing, which he said should be maximized to the greatest extent possible.

Pritzker has enforced COVID-19 mandates by issuing 18 disaster proclamations, a practice that is now under fire from some state lawmakers.

“We are operating and moving down a dangerous path if we allow governors either today or in the future to declare emergency declarations as long as they want without input from the General Assembly,” state Rep. Dan Ugaste, R-St. Charles, said.

Ugaste has House Bill 843 that would amend the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act to require the governor to get legislative approval of consecutive disaster proclamations.

State lawmakers are also examining other COVID-19 fallout, including failings by the Illinois Department of Employment Security and their offices remaining closed, millions spent on hospital leases that were rarely or never used, and the severe backlog of Firearm Owners’ Identifications that doubled in the past 18 months.

Read more here.

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BCFD

Barrington Countryside Fire Protection District broke ground on a $5 million fire station at 1004 S. Hough St.

Barrington Countryside Fire Protection District broke ground in late May for a new Fire Station 39 — the district’s third fire station — at 1004 S. Hough St. in an unincorporated area near the village.

Fire Station 39, at a cost of $5 million, will be the district’s third fire station. Officials said it will allow the district to respond to more than 90% of all emergency calls in six minutes or less.

“Today is a very exciting and important day; one that is seven years in the making,” Fire Chief Jim Kreher said.

The station is slated to be funded by reserves, though there has been some discussion about possibly financing a portion of the project — all without a tax rate increase, officials said. The station also will help reduce insurance premiums for some property owners, particularly in the eastern section of the district, officials said.

The project includes the work of Chicago-based Studio 222 Architects and Pepper Construction (of course) of Lake Zurich.

Source

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JB GerrymanderingThis decade’s redistricting process in Illinois has been marked by stumbles and self-serving partisanship.

The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the Census Bureau from providing the detailed count of populations needed to accurately apportion districts of equal population, as required by the state and federal constitutions. But the Illinois General Assembly went ahead anyway, drawing predictably partisan maps.

Despite his repeated promises to veto any partisan maps, on June 4 Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed both the gerrymandered legislative and judicial maps lawmakers sent to his desk.

Legislative map

The Illinois Constitution establishes deadlines for the General Assembly to pass a plan for redistricting their own districts. Members must pass a plan by June 30, or the responsibility is delegated to a bipartisan commission made of four Democrats and four Republicans.

If that commission cannot approve a map with five votes by Aug. 10, a tie-breaking ninth member is chosen at random from the names of one Democrat and one Republican by Sept. 5. The expanded commission then has until Oct. 5 to file a redistricting plan approved by five members.

With the complete census numbers delayed until mid-to-late August and the tabulated numbers not available until the end of September, Illinois Democrats are left with a choice: draw the maps in the General Assembly without the complete census data, or let constitutional deadlines pass and send the redistricting responsibility to a bipartisan backup commission, and ultimately to a 50-50 chance of a Republican tiebreaker. The Democrats chose to use incomplete data.

Democrats in the General Assembly revealed their proposed maps after working behind closed doors. According to public hearings held on those maps, in lieu of complete census data Democrats used data from the 2019 American Community Survey. Those estimates are based on surveys of communities over the course of five years.

Read much more here.

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