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Hammered for rising property taxes, Ald. Tom Tunney runs for political cover

Aerial views of Wrigley Field and the Wrigleyville area

Development in and around Wrigley Field has pushed up property values, and longtime residents say skyrocketing property tax assessments may force them out. | Lee Hogan/For the Sun-Times

Under fire for property tax increases made worse by skyrocketing assessments, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) is running for political cover.

On Monday, Tunney pushed a resolution through the City Council’s Finance Committee urging the Illinois Legislature and Cook County Board to provide homeowners with some form of assessment relief.

His resolution asks state lawmakers to: allow online applications for the senior citizens exemption — and every five years, instead of annually; raise the income threshold from $65,000 to $75,000; allow a one-time exemption for a certain amount of capital gains; raise the household income threshold for the Longtime Occupant Homeowner Exemption.

The County Board was urged to do its part by requiring newly-elected Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi to issue annual reports related to assessment trends and distribution of the tax burden.

The resolution also asks the County Board to allow “property improved with a building put to commercial use of six-or-less units where the building measures less than 12,000 square feet of above grade space to be assessed as Class 2.”

A group bankrolled by the billionaire Ricketts family — owners of the Cubs — has been sending out mailers hammering Tunney for skyrocketing property taxes in Lake View.

That’s apparently because Tunney cast a 2015 vote in favor of the largest property tax increase in Chicago history — $838 million — for police and fire pensions and school construction.

Groundbreaking in 2014 for Wrigley renovations

44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney (far left) joined other politicians and Cubs and Major League Basebell officials at Wrigley Field in 2014 for a ceremony to mark the start of renovations. But the Cubs remain angry with Tunney for resisting some of what they want to do around the ballpark. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times

Monday’s resolution was Tunney’s way of fighting back and demonstrating his sensitivity to an issue that could be decisive in his 44th Ward aldermanic race against three challengers.

Tunney said the triennial reassessment has triggered “average increases of over 30 percent,” generating “huge concern about the livability and viability of continuing to be in our neighborhood.”

“My effort as the elected official is to really work with our state and county officials for reform. Reform in the hope of protecting the long-term homeowners with their unpredictability and unreliability of their property taxes,” Tunney told his colleagues.

Tunney said he’s heard from constituents who’ve been in Lake View for “20 years or more,” were instrumental in revitalizing their neighborhood. Now, they feel they’re being punished by large increases in property taxes because of their “hard work to rebuild a community.”

“I find often that the homeowner says, `Alderman, I just can’t afford the cash outlays every six months. Now, I’m actually having to go back and borrow on my equity on the home to actually make payments,'” Tunney said. Some even say “`I’ve got a choice of feeding my family or my medical decisions or paying my mortgage or escrow amounts for these things,'” he added.

Tunney said the one-time exemption makes sense, since the federal government requires those over the age of 70 to “withdraw certain amounts from their IRAs.”

“Seniors, in the year when they have to liquidate a certain asset, do not meet the income verification … because they may have had a capital gain that put them over the top. So they fall out of line. They have to get back into line,” the alderman said.

The Park at Wrigley grand opening

Among the projects around Wrigley Field has been a new office tower just west of the ballpark. It has a retail store and Starbucks on the first level, and a grass lawn in front of it. Called The Park At Wrigley, it opened last year. | Sun-Times file photo

Marie Poppy has lived in Lake View since 1990.

Although the “median assessment increase” may well be 32 percent, Poppe said she was socked with an increase of 72 percent. One homeowner she knows was walloped with an assessment increase of 92 percent.

“It is too much at one time for any person to expect 50 percent, 30 percent, 60 percent tax increase. These are extraordinary numbers,” Poppy said

“A few of my neighbors are putting their homes on the market in the spring. People who I have lived with and by for 20 years. I already now have lost two of my friends. One has moved to Minneapolis, the other one to Tennessee. The unpredictable increases are pushing residents out of their homes and out of the city.”

Dennis Culloton, a spokesman for the Ricketts family, refused to comment on Monday’s resolution.

He would say only that the Cubs’ owners are “watching democracy play out in the 44th Ward.”

Although they have yet to choose a horse in the 44th Ward race, the Cubs owners have targeted Tunney after battling him for years over virtually all matters pertaining to Wrigley Field.

The Cubs got the go-ahead to put up two video scoreboards, four other outfield signs, extend the Wrigley footprint onto public streets and sidewalks without compensating Chicago taxpayers, and play more night games.

The City Council also approved the Cubs’ ambitious plan to develop the land around Wrigley Field with a hotel, an office building and open-air plaza with even more signs.

But, the Cubs wanted more — including more night games and the game-day closing of Addison and Clark for security purposes — and apparently blame Tunney for standing in the way.