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Cook County property tax revenue rising faster than inflation and wages, study says
It’s a challenging message for local government leaders. The pandemic-induced recession has hammered state and local government budgets.

Monday, October 26, 2020
Chicago Sun-Times
by David Roeder

Property tax income for Cook County governments has nearly doubled since 2000, far outpacing the rate of inflation and growth in average wages, said a study issued Monday by Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas.

The report shows where governments’ tax appetites have grown the fastest in the city and suburbs. It’s accompanied by a tool on the treasurer’s website that lets property owners see the growth in their individual bills.

Pappas, whose office issues the tax bills and receives the payments, called the findings “a sobering reminder” of property tax burdens. “In the midst of a pandemic and a recession, local governments should take their foot off the gas pedal and stop raising property taxes,” she said.

It’s a challenging message for local government leaders, including Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who has proposed raising property taxes, cutting certain spending and refinancing debt to close a projected $1.2 billion budget gap for next year. The pandemic-induced recession has hammered revenue for state and local governments.

The treasurer’s study found that while the cost of living has risen 36% from 2000 through 2019, Cook County tax billings increased 99%, to $15.58 billion. In Chicago, the increase was 115%, to $6.99 billion, while in suburban Cook County, bills rose 87%, to $8.59 billion.

The study found residential properties, in general, saw twice the rate of increase as commercial properties.

Citing federal data, the report said average Cook County wages rose 57% from 2000 through 2019.

Every dollar cited was levied by local agencies, so the report points to unmistakable growth in government spending. But its implications for individual taxpayers are less clear.

Because it is based on total tax collections, the report picks up not only changes applying to specific properties, but also new tax revenue tied to developments. The property tax on a specific parcel will increase dramatically, for example, if it’s an empty lot that gets an apartment building.

Moreover, a specific tax bill depends on many factors, including improvements to the property, the spending demands of the local governments and changes in the property’s taxable value. Illinois has more taxing bodies than any other state, and various calls for reform have emphasized government consolidation.

“The property tax system is complicated. It often appears complicated by design,” said Laurence Msall, president of the budget watchdog Civic Federation. Msall commended Pappas for providing important information and said it should inform further action in the General Assembly to limit property tax growth.

Pappas said she doesn’t intend to turn up pressure on any particular politician and that, at age 71, she has no aspirations for higher office. She said the study continues her efforts to educate people about their tax bills, citing publication of data on local governments’ debt levels.

Her report found the greatest growth in Chicago tax collections came in wards dominated by development and gentrification. In the Bronzeville-based 3rd Ward, collections rose 431% from 2000 through 2019. The increase was 322% in the 27th Ward that includes the West Loop and 264% in the 1st Ward, which includes Wicker Park.

The picture in the suburbs was more complex, with towns of various demographics showing the greatest increases since 2000, often from new development or because there is little commercial property to share homeowners’ tax burdens. Markham had the largest increase, 158%, followed by Lemont at 157% and Bartlett at 149%.



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