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Cook tax rates decline, but most tax bills will not

Thursday, September 18, 2008
Daily Herald
by David Beery

Newly released property tax rates for Northwest Cook County are uniformly lower, a sign of rising property assessments since 2004 even though home values recently have flattened or declined.

Cook County Clerk David Orr's office released 2007 rates Wednesday for all county taxing units, a prelude to County Treasurer Marie Pappas mailing homeowners the second installment of this year's property tax bill.

Throughout the Northwest suburbs, 2007 rates are lower than 2006 rates, often by about 10 percent or more. For instance, Northwest Suburban High School District 214's rate declined by 11.08 percent from a year earlier, Palatine-Schaumburg Township High School District 211's dropped by 12.78 percent, Barrington Area Unit District fell by 9.02 percent. Among municipalities, Arlington Heights' rate declined by 11.89 percent, Hoffman Estates' by 9.89 percent, Palatine's by 11.63 percent.

Typically, lower rates do not translate into lower property tax payments. Rather, Orr's office calculates rates by factoring in how much assessments have increased or declined and by how much each governmental unit is levying in taxes. In most cases, state property-tax law limits taxing units to collecting only 2.5 percent more in tax revenue than they did a year earlier, a restriction linked to the Consumer Price Index. Those relatively small levy increases, coupled with higher property values as set by 2007 reassessments, yield the generally lower rates seen in Orr's report.

Whether a particular homeowner sees increases or decreases in his or her property tax bill depends on yet other factors.

"It's when your reassessment deviates from the average that you'll pay more or less," said Orr spokesman Bill Vaselopulos. "If assessments in your area went up by an average of 10 percent, and yours went up by 20, you're going to pay more in taxes. But if yours went up by 10 percent versus an average of 20, then you might actually pay less."

Vaselopulos said the clerk cannot make sweeping observations about the direction of tax rates and taxes countywide because homeowner's exemptions vary widely from one part of the county to another.

When state legislators phased out Cook County Assessor James Houlihan's so-called 7-percent solution, designed to blunt the effect of assessment hikes, they OK'd a temporary system that gives one-third of the county a maximum exemption of $33,000, while the top exemption is $26,000 for another third and only $20,000 for the remaining third. This year, qualifying Northwest suburban residents can claim the $33,000 exemption, which, for some, may reduce tax liability by several hundred dollars.

But Houlihan, who lobbied lawmakers for a more generous and permanent exemption, noted that it will not benefit those who own the more valuable homes that characterize much of the Northwest suburbs.

Why have assessed values gone up even though a nationwide housing crisis has resulted in home values generally falling?

Houlihan spokeswoman Maura Kownacki said that the 2007 triennial reassessment was based on market changes from 2004 through 2007 and does not reflect 2008 market conditions.

"In a three-year cycle, if the first year values went up 6 percent and in the second year went up 4 percent and in the third year went down 6 percent, you're still up overall," said Houlihan, adding that he will press state legislators to approve annual adjustments that would more closely track market trends.

With new rates now in hand, Pappas said her office will begin printing second-installmenbt bills next week and that homeowners should expect to see them in the mail by Oct. 1, 2 and 3. Payments will be due Nov. 3.

Homeowners can view tax rates for all county taxing bodies at the clerk's Web site, www.cookctyclerk.com.



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