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Higher tax bills are coming, so brace yourself

Thursday, October 25, 2007
Pioneer Press

For many Evanston homeowners, the arrival of 2006 tax bills next week may feel like the punchline to a good-news-bad-news joke.
Homeowners got the good news during the past two tax years, when the so-called 7-percent assessment cap softened the tax impact of steep 2004 assessment increases.
The bad news? Many homeowners will be pummeled in year three with their largest tax increases yet.
The new tax rates released Monday by the Cook County Clerk's Office showed slight or moderate rate increases for most school districts and other jurisdictions in the north and northwest suburbs. However, those deceptively small rate hikes will morph into tax increases of 10 percent -- and more -- when the rates are applied to homeowners' rising property values.
In Evanston, the composite tax rate paid by most homeowners edged up by less than 3 percent, from 7.552 to 7.750 percent.
However, when that new rate is applied to the higher property value, the typical homeowner will see an increase of 10 percent, or about $660 on a $400,000 home.
The assessment cap phases in 7 percent of the homeowner's increased property value each year through an adjustable homeowner exemption that can be as low as $5,000 and as high as $20,000.
Increase amount varies
For any individual homeowner, the amount of the 2006 tax increase will vary depending on the value of the property, the size of the 2004 assessment increase and the taxing practices of local governments.
"Every property is different. Every taxing district levies differently," said Bill Vaselopulos, director of tax extension for the Cook County Clerk's Office. In a locale where the median assessment increase was 30 percent, "those who received a 40 percent increase or a 20 percent increase are going to be affected differently," he said.
School districts and other tax-capped governments were limited to a 3.4 percent increase in their 2006 tax claims, a figure that corresponds to the Consumer Price Index. Many school districts, however, are currently able to exceed tax caps because a majority of voters approved referendum proposals.
Also exempt from tax caps are levies required to pay what the district owes its bond holders.
Not only will many homeowners be hit with their largest increases since the 2004 reassessment; they'll have to come up with the full amount of the yearly increase when they pay their second installment property taxes due Dec. 3.
And because property tax bills are later than usual this year, taxpayers will have only a three-month respite before their first installment 2007 bills are due March 1.
Though Evanston homeowners received notices of their new 2007 property valuations in the spring, those figures won't be used to calculate bills until the latter half of 2008.
The Illinois legislature recently approved a three-year extension of the so-called 7 percent cap that will raise the maximum exemption the first year to $33,000.

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