Businesses and minorities hit hardest by latest tax bills, county report says
An analysis by Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas’ staff finds the tax load shifting to commercial property, but higher levies and assessments are whacking some homeowners.
Tax bills soon to land for Cook County property owners will take a larger bite from businesses countywide and from many Blacks and Latinos in the suburbs, a new analysis shows.
The report from Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas’ office concludes that commercial and industrial property throughout Cook County will account for total billings of $7 billion this year, up 6.2% from 2020. Homeowners, meanwhile, are paying an aggregate 1.3% more, or $8.9 billion, it said.
But residences in many suburbs are paying much higher bills, often because of two factors: Their property was reassessed for tax purposes, and their local governments increased their tax levies, the amount demanded from business owners and residents.
For example, the median residential tax bill in Bellwood is up 45%, or $1,868, compared with a year ago, the analysis found. Sharp increases also showed up in other western suburbs, such as Maywood and in some municipalities south of Chicago.
The findings are based on taxes that were levied in 2020 and, under the county’s system, are first showing up in bills issued this year. Pappas said the second installment of bills due in 2021 will be mailed later this month and can be viewed and paid online at cookcountytreasurer.com. The website also has a link to the office’s research.
Pappas said inequities in the property tax system persist, especially in the south suburbs. “The 2020 property tax increases are exacerbating financial stresses in these communities, thwarting economic progress and generational wealth-building,” she said.
While her office issues the bills and collects the payment, it does not determine what property owners pay. That’s a function of how much local governments levy in taxes, while the Cook County assessor apportions that load by placing valuations on each parcel.
“This isn’t an attack on the assessor,” Pappas said. “We need to fix this system. The facts here speak for themselves. Nobody understands that the greater the levy, the greater the taxes are going to be. So I say to all those governments that want to pass bond issues — if you do that, the taxes are going to go up.”
She said population loss and business closures have worsened the situation in the south suburbs, leaving a smaller base to shoulder the tax burden. Business leaders in the region have long complained that the county’s policy of assessing business property at higher rates than homes puts them at a disadvantage. Employers can build in adjoining counties that offer lower taxes.
The analysis by the treasurer’s staff — its first statistical look at upcoming tax bills — picks up the county’s reassessment last year of suburbs south of North Avenue. This year, Chicago is being reassessed and the effect will show up in bills next year. The north suburbs’ turn comes in 2022.
In Chicago, this year’s tax bills are little changed for most homeowners, the review found, while the median commercial tax bill was up 8.6%, to $9,659.
The report said majority Black and Latino communities make up six of the top 10 areas with the largest tax increases for homeowners and seven of the top 10 for commercial properties.
Suburbs seeing double-digit percentage increases in homeowners’ bills include Robbins, Cicero and Stone Park. Commercial taxes rose more than 20% in Posen, Park Forest and Flossmoor.
Ford Heights, among the poorest suburbs in the country, showed up with large increases in bills for both homes, an 18% median increase, and commercial property, at 42%.
Eighteen south suburbs account for the highest average tax rates in the county and are several times higher than the rate in Chicago. The rate is multiplied by a property’s assessed value to arrive at the tax bill.
The difference means that in Park Forest, a homeowner would pay about five times the taxes as the owner of a house in Chicago that’s equally valued, the report said.
The analysis “really puts numbers and data around a lot of things we’re concerned about,” said Brad Tietz, vice president of governmental relations for the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and one of several civic leaders to be briefed by Pappas’ team Monday. He said the ongoing reassessment of Chicago properties will continue to shift the tax load to businesses.
“The cost of government has outpaced what taxpayers can afford,” Tietz said. Pointing to the south suburbs, he said, “The less commercial property you have to tax, the higher the rates will go on residential property.”
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