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Chicago property tax: Bigger bills headed this way
Cook County suburbs set to see increases too

Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Chicago Tribune
by Bob Secter

Add a plumper property tax bill to the myriad scary things headed your way around Halloween.

The semiannual round of tax bills will soon arrive in mailboxes in Cook County. Collectively, homeowners and businesses across the county are being hit up for 4.2 percent more in property taxes this year than last. In Chicago, the increase in the total property tax burden is even higher -- a little more than 6 percent.

Those numbers were released Tuesday by Cook County Clerk David Orr's office as a snapshot of the complex number crunching behind the tax calculations.

Results will vary from house to house, shop to shop and factory to factory, but this much is clear: Recession or no, local governments are demanding a bigger bite out of your savings. As a group, suburban taxpayers will bear a lower increase than in the city, but it is difficult to come up with a comparable projection because most suburban communities consist of a plethora of taxing districts that apply to some residents and not others.

Some highlights, or lowlights, in the data:

--Despite last year's housing market crash, tax officials calculate that property values for tax purposes rose 8.23 percent in suburban townships and 9.96 percent in the city. The calculation includes an array of moving parts, not the least of which is the gradual phaseout of a program to limit assessment increases that was implemented at the height of the housing market boom earlier this decade.

--Some of the biggest percentage property tax revenue increases were logged by smaller taxing bodies. But among major taxing bodies, one of the largest hikes belonged to the Chicago Board of Education, where the increase topped 5 percent, from $1.9 billion the previous tax year to $2 billion this year. The increase for the city government is 1.6 percent.

--Countywide, the property tax increase for the Cook County government is negligible, though it should be remembered that the county not long ago found an alternative way to raise big cash through a penny-on-the-dollar sales tax hike. And the Cook County Forest Preserve District, a separately taxed arm of county government, is raising 4.5 percent more in taxes. Meanwhile, tax revenues for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District will rise 4.5 percent.

--There are about 1,200 taxing bodies throughout the county, and the tax rates charged by the vast majority are going down. But since assessments went up, the math still adds up to higher tax bills for most property owners.

Thanks to a record number of assessment appeals, this year's second installment of property tax bills will be going out about three months late -- although the bills rarely get mailed out on schedule.

That has created cash flow headaches for some government bodies, but for taxpayers, the tardiness carries a good news/bad news scenario. True, they have been able to put off hefty tax payments for a few months. On the other hand, it creates a situation where property tax bills will come due almost back to back. Next year's first installment of tax bills will go out in February.

bsecter@tribune.com


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