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Cook County assessor explains suburban branch cuts
By Kimberly Pohl | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 3/25/2009 5:05 PM

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A spokesman for the Cook County assessor's office said he empathizes with township officials who worry about the likelihood of more work once five suburban branches close.

Still, he said the agency's hands were tied by a mandatory 4 percent across-the-board budget cut enacted by the Cook County Board last month.

"We certainly understand this isn't an ideal situation, but there weren't a lot of places we could cut," spokesman Eric Herman said. "(Assessor Jim Houlihan) wanted to do anything possible to avoid layoffs."

Herman said the downtown office serves 1,500 people per week on average, compared to 200 at each of the suburban branches, including the Rolling Meadows courthouse branch. The agency's full-time staff has fallen from 474 employees to about 385 since 1998.

The savings will come by using the 24 satellite office employees to fill the 25 current vacancies downtown. Cutting the office's other biggest expense, printing and publishing, wasn't possible because of state statutes, he said.

Herman added most services are provided online, where property owners can download forms and file appeals. The assessor's Web site, currently being upgraded, is one of the state's busiest, with 5.2 million monthly hits during tax season.

Several township officials called the measure a tax shift that will save the county money but add to their own expenses because of the additional personnel they'll need to cover the loss of the suburban county assessor branches.