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A property tax freeze does nothing for poorest towns in Illinois

A sprinkler waters the lawn on South Nottingham in Chicago's Clearing neighborhood.

Chicago homeowners are soaked by an average 10 percent increase in their property tax bill. | Sun-Times file photo

Although Chicago property tax rates jumped 10 percent in 2016, they still aren’t close to the oppressive property taxes being paid in some of the poorest south suburbs.

While the average property tax rate for a home in the City of Chicago is 7.14 percent, homeowners in Ford Heights — one of the poorest communities in the state — were paying the highest tax rate in Cook County at 38.5 percent. The property tax rate in Park Forest was second highest at 35.8 percent and homeowners in Chicago Heights are paying a property tax rate of 34.18 percent.


The average property tax rate in the south suburbs, according to Cook County Clerk David Orr’s office, is 13.3 percent, nearly double the tax rate in Chicago, while homeowners in the north suburbs are hit with an average tax rate of 9.2 percent.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has repeatedly called for a property tax freeze, which would be nice for Chicago property owners, but would do nothing at all for people living in some of the poorest communities in the state — which happen to be located in south Cook County. For more than a decade they’ve been hit with the highest property tax rates, often driving the few businesses they have across the border to Indiana.

Orr, who publishes property tax rates by community and taxing body on the Cook County Clerk’s Web site, notes that a perfect storm of tax inequities has not only created a problem for south suburban communities but is responsible for what he calls a “taxpayer crisis of confidence” throughout Illinois.

The fact is that while many elected leaders in this state have used voter anger over property taxes to their political advantage, they have done nothing to change a system that is unfair to the poor and middle-class homeowner.

For example, while Rauner has proposed a property tax freeze, he has never embraced the idea of increasing the income tax to the point that it could support public education. Illinois currently funds about 26 percent of the cost of public education, although the state Constitution clearly says it has “primary responsibility” for school funding.

Orr has been a leader in trying to educate the public on the impact of property taxes. His office compiles the property tax rates for Cook County, using the levies set by municipalities, school districts and all the other local taxing bodies, and he long ago understood the inequities in the system and their impact.

It’s a regressive tax system that has few defenders among public officials.

Orr has been relentless in his pursuit of reform and says that due to the 10 percent Chicago property tax hike, he has received a number of inquiries from state legislators expressing support for his efforts and asking for guidance in proposing changes.

The inequities are easily seen, Orr notes, by comparing a typical $100,000 home in Lincolnwood — an upper middle class suburb with an equalized assessed value of $658 million — to a home of a similar value in Dolton — an area that could be called lower middle class with an equalized assessed value of $194 million. The tax rate in Lincolnwood is 9.2 percent, due to an abundance of commercial property, while the tax rate in Dolton is 24.28 percent. So the owner of a $100,000 home in Dolton would pay $5,107 in property taxes compared to $1,943 for the same home in Lincolnwood.

This has been going on for decades in Cook County. As Orr notes, the property tax system is so confusing that it undermines the public’s confidence in government.

This state has to shift away from the property tax system. But since any substantive change is unlikely to benefit the wealthy, talk of a tax freeze will continue because it changes nothing.

Email: philkadner@gmail.com

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