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Some property tax bills have multiplied by 20X or more since 2000, treasurer’s office finds: ‘People have allowed this to happen’

Tuesday, January 05, 2021
The Daily Line
by Alex Nitkin


Part of a report from Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas showing which Chicago properties have registered the biggest tax hikes since 2000, showing which residential properties have gone up most.

A Gold Coast condo charged with a $6,700 tax bill in 2000 was saddled with nearly $134,000 in taxes in 2019. The bill for a two-story house in Winnetka went from about $53,000 in 2000 to more than $675,000 19 years later. And an industrial building on Chicago’s Near West Side saw its tax burden multiply from $785.11 to $30,354 during the same period.

Those were some of the most eye-popping trends from a new set of data released by Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas on Tuesday as part of an ongoing effort to shine a light on the last two decades of property tax growth in Cook County.

Pappas found in an October study that taxing bodies across the county approximately doubled their combined levies during the past two decades, even as average wages only increased by 57 percent. Taxes went up most sharply in Chicago, but the total property tax burden also ballooned by 87 percent in Cook County’s suburbs.

Pappas followed up Tuesday with a 234-page report listing the individual properties that registered the sharpest increases over this period, including breakdowns of the biggest hikes in each of Chicago’s 50 wards. She is sharing the data as a call to action for voters who have sat on the sidelines while taxes have continued to skyrocket, she said.

“What everybody needs to understand from this is that nobody wants more of a [property tax] increase,” Pappas told The Daily Line on Monday. “Get it from somewhere else, but don’t come after my property.”

The report only counts parcels whose property classes have not changed since 2000, meaning that while the buildings may have been renovated, none underwent major expansions or wholesale physical transformations.

Most of the sharpest residential tax bill increases — in both raw dollars and percentage — occurred in relatively wealthy areas, the report found. Forty-seven of the 50 Chicago property index numbers (PINs) with the greatest individual tax increases since 2000 are located in the 2nd, 42nd, 43rd and 44th Wards along the city’s north lakefront. And all 50 of the suburban PINs with the greatest increases are located north or northwest of the city.

However, many South and West Side property owners also saw their bills multiply during the 20-year period, indicating that year-over-year hikes have hurt the homeowners who can least afford them.

A townhome at 2716 W. Maypole Ave. in East Garfield Park saw its property taxes shoot up from about $270 in 2000 to more than $3,200 in 2019, a nearly 1,100 percent increase. And a one-story bungalow at 313 W. 48th Pl. in Fuller Park was charged about $1,850 in property taxes last year after owing $197 in 2000. That home was assessed last year at a market value of about $136,000, according to county tax records.

But even for the county’s most luxurious homes, compounding property taxes can throw a wrench into real estate markets by making properties harder to sell or pass down between generations, Pappas said.

“If you drop dead, do you think your kid who’s making $80,000 a year could possibly afford to live in a [high-cost] place like that, even if the mortgage is paid off?” Pappas said. “And that’s no different from a bungalow where you paid $1,000 in taxes when you bought it, and now the taxes are $10,000.”

Pappas’ October report gave fuel to the nearly two dozen Chicago aldermen who stood against Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposal to raise the city’s property tax levy by about $94 million and tie future increases to the Consumer Price Index. The City Council ultimately approved the hike in a 28-22 vote. By contrast, Cook County has not raised its property tax levy — not even to match natural growth in the cost of living— since the mid-1990s.

Related: Aldermen push against property tax hike, bristle at layoffs and furloughs: ‘This is going to be the hard vote for me’

Asked about the report during an October budget hearing, Chicago Chief Financial Officer Jennie Huang Bennett said the study “doesn’t take into account that Chicagoans have increased their property wealth” during the 20-year period.

“Comparing today to 20 years ago is not really how anybody looks at costs,” Bennett said during the hearing, noting that Chicago’s property taxes have notched up at about a 4 percent annual rate. She added that the price of staple grocery items have also radically shot up since 2000.

“Chicago’s economy has grown, and we’ve all benefitted from increased property wealth,” Bennett said.

Pappas called Bennett’s statement an “accounting answer” that ignores the human cost of property taxes. The treasurer also pointed to a finding in her report that the cost of living only went up by about 36 percent since 2000, even as property taxes roughly doubled.

“If you go to someone in a bungalow, they’re going to say they’re angry, and they don’t want to hear accounting answers,” Pappas said Monday. “They want common-sense answers. They want to know how they’re going to pay.”

Her October report showed that some of the sharpest tax increases were recorded in the city’s Pilsen neighborhood, a point repeatedly emphasized by Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25) and Cook County Comm. Alma Anaya (D-7).

Anaya last month organized a county board hearing in which Pappas, county Assessor Fritz Kaegi and leaders of the county’s Board of Review were asked to explain the county’s persistently rising taxes. Anaya said the report showed evidence of an “unfair burden” placed on homeowners, including in her Southwest Side district, where rising property taxes are “definitely a contributor to the displacement of communities of color.”

At the same time, tax bills shot up by at least tenfold on dozens of Chicago commercial properties, especially in the city’s Central Business District and Near West Side.

The downtown 42nd Ward is home 43 of the 50 Chicago PINs that saw the largest tax increases since 2000 in raw-dollar terms. The 54-story Blue Cross Blue Shield Tower at 300 E. Randolph St. faced the biggest tax increase, from a $8.1 million bill in 2000 to nearly $19.6 million tax burden in 2019, according to the latest report.

Still, when calculated by percentage change, commercial properties saw astronomical tax growth all across the city.

A one-story commercial building at 6653 S. Archer Ave. in Garfield Ridge saw its tax bill grow from $109 to more than $5,700 during the 20-year period, a nearly 5,200-percent increase. An industrial building at 2444 W. 16th St. on the Near West Side saw its tax bill multiply by more than 38 times, and a commercial condo at 1733 W. Irving Park Road in North Center registered a nearly 2,300 percent increase.

Pappas said the exploding tax bills are a sign that governments in Chicago and its suburbs “are going to have to cease the [tax] increases.” She added that she hopes her report awakens more residents to the issue, especially in non-home rule taxing districts that need to ask voters’ permission to raise taxes or take on new debts.

“You’ve got all these tax hikes and bond deals going on in the suburbs because people have allowed it to happen,” Pappas said. “The residences and commercial owners…who do not vote have allowed this to happen because they don’t hold anybody accountable. I want to inspire people to get registered.”

Alex Nitkin

Alex Nitkin is The Daily Line’s reporter covering Cook County and Chicago land use policy. He came to TDL from The Real Deal Chicago, where he covered Chicago real estate news. He previously worked at DNAinfo, first as a breaking news reporter, and then as a neighborhood reporter covering the city's Northwest Side. Nitkin graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism with a bachelor’s degree.



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