Homeowners' Burden Grows

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), December 19, 2012 | Go to article overview

Homeowners' Burden Grows


Illinois homeowners are shouldering more of the property tax burden than ever before.

Much of the increase is fueled by shifts in Cook and DuPage counties, where the proportion paid by homeowners increased 11.3 and 4.6 percentage points, respectively, from 2001 to 2010.

Statewide, the share of property taxes paid by homeowners rose by 7.4 percentage points, a Daily Herald analysis of Illinois Department of Revenue records shows. And it's a bigger slice of a bigger pie, with taxes paid to the state's 6,000-plus units of government rising nearly $9 billion over the same decade.

Meanwhile, the share of property taxes paid by commercial and industrial property owners shrank.

One big reason for the shift is that the value of business property dropped more significantly than home values during the recession, said Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a government finance research organization. When property tax bills came due, homeowners had to pick up the slack.

"It's a reality of having so many units of government in Illinois rely on property taxes," Msall said.

The trend is less pronounced in Kane, Lake and McHenry counties, but homeowners in those areas already bear a high proportion of property taxes. In Will County, homeowners' share of the tax burden dipped slightly after rising a few years ago.

Msall's group commissioned a [URL]report;http://www.rxreform.org/[/URL] on overall property values in Cook County that shows drastic declines in commercial and industrial property values between 2001 and 2010, while residential values rose.

Countywide, residential property value increased 26 percent while commercial and industrial properties lost an estimated 19.6 percent and 13.2 percent of their values, according to the group's analysis.

But there are other factors. Cook County has a unique property assessment process that has helped shift more taxes onto homeowners' backs. Here's how:

* Houses are assessed at different rates than commercial and industrial properties, unlike in other suburban counties.

* Commercial and industrial property owners routinely appeal their assessments, and they get larger reductions on average than homeowners do.

* Apartment complexes with seven or more units are considered commercial properties. And unlike 10 years ago, they are now assessed at a much lower rate, reducing the amount owed by those property owners.

* Exemptions for homeowners are being phased out and eliminated.

* Communities desperate for development or to retain businesses are granting more tax incentives.

"The state phased out the homeowners exemption and the other thing is this shift has been driven by businesses that are leaving or closing during these difficult times," said Cook County Commissioner Tim Schneider, a Republican from Bartlett. "We want to make Cook County a place where people want to live and build a business, so I'm a strong believer in keeping property taxes low for both types and that takes a delicate balance. Right now, we're out of balance."

DuPage County is out of balance, as well.

"All you have to do is drive down Roosevelt Road in Wheaton and you'll see multiple car dealerships that used to be thriving businesses that are now closed and are vacant lots," DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said. …

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