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Assessment down? Don’t get hopes up
Sunday, July 19, 2009 Chicago Tribune by Bob Secter
Thanks to the recession and the housing crisis, homeowners across
Cook County have begun receiving unusual notices in the mail from County
Assessor James Houlihan:Assessments are
going down for the first time in recent memory.That may seem like a glimmer of good news in a gloomy economic climate,
but the Cook County property tax system is so convoluted that it might be
easier to grasp quantum physics than project the impact of assessment
changes.Here’s a primer on what it
might mean for you:
Q:Yippee!My assessment is dropping 5 percent.Can I now afford that exotic South Seas
your bags yet.The assessment reductions
will have no impact on the next two rounds of property tax bills to be mailed out
this fall and early next year.The
revisions won’t be factored into tax bills until late 2010.
Q:And then I
can start to splurge?
A:Hard to say,
but probably not.Assessments are but
one of several factors that determine your tax bill.The most important is called the levy, which
is essentially the total of all the property tax revenue that a governmental
body hopes to raise through the property tax in a given year.Levies defy gravity.The virtually never go down and usually go
up. So even if your assessment drops, your tax bill could grow.
Q:So why all
the fuss about assessments?
matter.If the assessment on your house
is bigger than your neighbor’s, then your bill will be bigger as well.In a similar vein, if assessments on
industrial and commercial property stay the same while those for residential
property go down, then the overall property tax burden gets shifted slightly
away toward business.The emphasis here,
however, is on the word, “slightly,” and it’s important to remember that when
home values were going gangbusters the shift was in the opposite direction.
Q:What about that
state law that let Cook County cap soaring assessments a few years ago?
how hot the real estate market once was in your neighborhood, it may have
prevented your tax bill from soaring into the stratosphere.Problem is, the caps were temporary and they
are now being phased out.So you could
get an assessment cut this year and still be hit with a big assessment increase
net year simply because the artificial caps are going away.We told you this is complicated.
this, whom do I blame if my tax bill still goes up?
easy to criticize politicians, but if you want to single out a class of
culprits, blame your kids.Seriously.Property taxes pay for
a range of public functions, from Cook county government to forest preserves,
parks, libraries, village halls and much more.By far, however, the biggest slice of your property tax bill goes to
bankroll public schools.In Chicago, 60
percent of property tax revenue is funneled to schools.In the suburbs, the figure averages 68 percent.As much as voters complain about high taxes,
few are willing to cut funding for their local schools.