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Chicago, Cook and state fees to rise in 2013

Monday, December 31, 2012
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Many Chicago-area homeowners, commuters and even gun buyers will feel the pain of a bigger government financial bite this year because of a host of new and higher taxes, fees, fines and fares.

In Chicago, water bills will rise significantly, property taxes will go up, parking meter rates will jump yet again and speed cameras will start fining lead-footed drivers near schools and parks. Across Cook County, smokers, gun buyers and some businesses face tax increases as well as some new charges.

Throughout the state, car owners and strip club patrons will pay higher fees. And many Chicago-area commuters will be hit with increased fares and tolls.

But it's not all bad news: The Cook County sales tax will drop by a quarter percentage point, and Chicago residential and small-business electric bills will drop.

Chicago

The biggest, broadest hit in Chicago and many suburbs will result from higher water and sewer rates that go into effect Jan. 1. Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration expects to collect $109.5 million more from water and sewer fees, with the money earmarked to upgrade the entire system.

City property owners and suburbs that buy city water face a 15 percent rate increase in water rates. Sewer charges, added to city property owners' bimonthly bills, will be 92 percent of the water tab, an increase of 3 percentage points.

And smaller nonprofit groups will be required to pay 60 percent of the going rate for water. That's up from 40 percent last year, and it's been a sticking point between the mayor and some religious leaders.

City homeowners also will see an increase in property taxes — on average $28 — because of a boost in the Chicago Public Schools levy to raise an extra $41 million for the cash-strapped district.

In addition, the city is phasing out the rebate for condominium owners who don't get city garbage pickup. The check will be cut in half to $25.

Parking meter rates will rise in January for the fifth year in a row as a result of a much-maligned 75-year lease launched by former Mayor Richard M. Daley. The hourly rate downtown will be $6.50, a 75-cent increase. In business areas near the Loop, it will be $4, or 50 cents more. In neighborhoods, the rate will be $2, a quarter-per-hour hike.

Speeders in Chicago might want to set aside some money to pay tickets. Two companies are now staging trials of speed cameras near parks and schools under a program Emanuel has touted as a safety initiative. Once the cameras are up and running and fines are being doled out, the city expects to raise between $20 million and $30 million this year.

After a trial period, the owners of vehicles photographed going 6 to 10 mph above the limit will be fined $35. Those caught topping the speed limit by more than 10 mph will get hit with $100 fines.

Meanwhile, a new city electricity bulk-purchasing plan is expected to reduce rates by about $20 a month for the average household from February through May. Starting June 1, when ComEd's power rates are expected to drop, the savings will narrow.

Cook County

Taxpayers will get a couple of months before county tax and fee hikes take effect. The county tax on a pack of cigarettes will double to $2 on March 1, raising the overall per-pack tax to $6.67. That's just 19 cents shy of New York City's nation-leading tobacco tax.

A month later, the county will start charging a so-called use tax of 1.25 percent on out-of-county purchases. The levy applies after the first $3,500 in spending, and is much more likely to affect businesses than people.

Also on April 1, the county will start charging a $25 tax on each gun purchase. On June 1, a $1,000-a-year tax on slot machines and $200-a-year tax on video gambling terminals will kick in.

All told, the county expects to raise $41.7 million from new taxes. But the county also stands to lose $86 million by lowering its share of the sales tax from 1 percent to 0.75 percent with the new year. That will leave the total sales tax tab in downtown Chicago at 9.25 percent.

Illinois

Lawmakers approved several new fees aimed at catching up with deferred maintenance at state parks. An extra $2 has been tacked on to the cost of a license plate, and new fees will be paid by commercial fishing outfits and those who use all-terrain vehicles on state land.

Those measures are expected to raise up to $55 million a year to chip away at a roughly $750 million park maintenance backlog.

Meanwhile, strip clubs that sell booze or let people drink alcoholic beverages will face a new tax. Club operators can either add a $3 admission fee or pay yearly taxes based on revenue. A strip club making $2 million or more a year would pay $25,000. Those making $500,000 to $2 million would pay $15,000. Operators making less than $500,000 would pay $5,000. The money goes to support rape crisis centers.

Commuters

The CTA base fare will remain $2.25, but starting Jan. 14, passes used by more than half of bus and train riders will be more expensive.

A 30-day pass will cost $100, up from $86, and a seven-day pass will increase to $28 from $23. Three-day passes will cost $20, up from $14, and one-day passes will increase to $10 from $5.75.

Blue Line riders departing from O'Hare International Airport will hand over $5 — including a $2.75 surcharge — if they pay with cash or buy a ticket from a machine. Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus riders also will get hit with the surcharge sometime in July, but workers at O'Hare will continue to pay the lower fare.

The CTA/Pace seven-day pass will cost more, too, increasing to $33 from $28. The cost of the Metra Link-Up pass, which is used by some commuters transferring between the CTA and Metra during rush periods, will be raised to $55 from $45.

The reduced fare for seniors and disabled people will increase to $1 from 85 cents on bus and to $1.10 on rail. The 30-day reduced-fare pass will increase to $50 from $35. In addition, the 10 percent bonus will be eliminated on reduced-fare prepaid cards.

The fare hikes are expected to generate about $56 million a year that will help balance the books.

Metra fares will remain the same after a record-high 2012 increase that resulted in most riders paying about 30 percent more. But starting Feb. 1, the price of a 10-ride pass will equal the cost of 10 full-fare rides, instead of nine. That's a boost of 11 percent, and will add anywhere from $2.75 to $9.25 to the cost of the 10-ride pass, depending on distance.

The 10-ride discount elimination is expected to raise $8.3 million, most of which is slated for matches to federal funding for construction projects.

Drivers will pay the same rates on Illinois toll roads after an 87.5 percent increase that took effect a year ago — except for the privately operated Chicago Skyway, where the toll for cars will increase by 50 cents to $4.

Tribune reporters Monique Garcia and Jon Hilkevitch contributed.


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