June 12, 2012 By Noelle Knell
Governments have long realized that citizens don’t necessarily associate government functions with the proper agency or department. Distinctions between the many offices involved in taxation, for example, are irrelevant to the average person. They just want to know how to get information.
In Cook County, Ill., several different offices, led by separately elected officials, each have a hand in property taxes. Home to Chicago, Cook County is the second most-populous county in the country, with approximately 1.7 million separate parcels.
A new Web portal unites information from the Cook County Treasurer’s Office, the Assessor’s Office, Clerk’s Office, Recorder of Deeds and the Board of Review in one location, to provide a comprehensive view of all property tax-related information at one online location.
Cook County Treasurer’s Office CIO Steve Edmonson, formerly Cook County CIO, told Government Technology that officials believe that their property tax portal is breaking new ground. “This is so comprehensive,” he said. “I don’t believe you’ll find another tax portal like this anywhere in the country.”
In crafting the portal on a short 90-day timeline, technical staff gathered data on the most requested information from each contributing agency. Site visitors can use their property index number (PIN) or address to access five years’ worth of data related to the property. Besides a photograph and property description, owners can also access the property’s assessed value, tax rates and payments, deeds and liens on the property, refunds owed, exemptions, appeals information and more.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced at a press conference earlier this year that this collaboration greatly simplifies the process of gathering tax information for residential and property owners.
"We are making one of the most crucial areas of county government — information about people's homes and property — more sensitive to their needs, more convenient for their use, more efficient and more transparent for all of our residents," Preckwinkle said.
“What we’re trying to do is make it easy so that you aren’t chasing paper between offices and floors and so that you don’t have to go to the county building or to the satellite offices to get the paper which is now in five or six different places,” explained Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, credited as the visionary behind the project.
Edmonson explained that the county hasn’t had to devote much energy to promoting the new site, as satisfied users are promoting it for them. Legal and property management groups are singing its praises to their members. Feedback from the public has also been very positive, he said.
Cook County is eyeing a series of upgrades to the portal for its next phase. GIS will be added so that property owners can access comparative data for other parcels in their area. A mechanism for getting additional user input will be added to the site as well. According to Edmonson, the target date to complete the second phase is the end of October 2012.
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