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Cook County business property owners to see higher tax bills

Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Chicago Sun-Times
by David Roeder

Cook County officials are delivering a stern message to homeowners: Just because the value of your property has gone down in the last few years, don’t expect the forthcoming tax bill to dip as well.

Many property tax payers in Chicago will see higher bills landing in their mailboxes the next few days, the Cook County clerk’s office said Tuesday. It said the hikes will be common for business property owners, while most homeowners in the city will see their bills stay flat or decline.

Officials said owners of suburban property of all classes will see bills increase an average of 3 percent.

The office’s report reflects a hard truth about the complex system for collecting property taxes. When valuations drop but local governments don’t curb their spending requests, bills are liable to rise.

In Chicago, the taxable value for all property in 2012 fell 13 percent from the prior year, said aides to county Clerk David Orr. But the tax rate needed to get local governments the money they asked for rose 17 percent, they said.

The basic tax rate in the city stands at $6.396 per $100 of a home’s equalized assessed valuation, compared with $5.455 in 2011.

Total tax rates in many suburbs rose by 10 percent to 15 percent.

Bill Vaselopulos, director of real estate and tax services in Orr’s office, said that within Chicago, the government agency requesting the largest increase in tax revenue was the Chicago Public Schools, either for overall operation or for a school bond levy. The tax levies for the city of Chicago and Cook County were little changed.

“If values drop and levies remain flat or increase slightly, the rates go up,” Vaselopulos said. “That does not mean your tax bill will go up because the higher rate will be multiplied against a lower taxable value.” He cautioned that changes involving particular properties can cause bills to swing, and that similar homes on the same block can have different bills because of varying exemptions.

The new rates are used to calculate the upcoming tax bills now being mailed. Payment is due Aug. 1.

In most communities, schools account for most of a homeowner’s tax bill, with municipal services taking about a third. County services and smaller taxing agencies, such as park districts or libraries, account for the rest.

Vaselopulos said it is hard to generalize about Chicago residents’ property tax bills because of varying assessment results by area. In what he called a “remarkable difference,” assessments within the downtown commercial district fell 7.5 percent, while those in residential neighborhoods dropped 14 percent to 20 percent.

That means there will be a small shift in the tax load from the neighborhoods to the property owners in and near the Loop.

 Vaselopulos said that in the suburbs, the taxable value of property fell by about 8 percent.

Cook County issues its tax bills twice a year, and the summer version used to be notorious for causing “sticker shock” for homeowners. The bills were the first to register changes in assessment levels and government levies. When home values and government spending rose, taxpayers got hit with a double whammy.

But changes in state law have limited the spending hikes of taxing bodies while adding exemptions for homeowners. Government agencies that aren’t home-rule units this year are limited to a 3 percent hike in property tax revenues, in line with the Consumer Price Index measurement of inflation for 2012.

Vaselopulos said that of the county’s nearly 1,600 taxing agencies, 450 are subject to the 3 percent cap. Of those, 350 had their levies lowered by the county clerk to stay within the law, he said.

Many local governments did not raise their levies by the maximum amount. The clerk’s office calculated that countywide, property tax payers are being billed $11.9 billion for 2012, up 2.2 percent from 2011.



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