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updated: 11/17/2010 7:37 PM

Suburban homeowners bear brunt of Cook tax increases

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In a year when total taxes for suburban Cook County rose just 2.5 percent, many Northwest suburban homeowners saw double-digit increases signaling they're taking on more of the tax burden that used to fall on commercial and industrial property owners.

The median tax increase for homeowners in the North and Northwest suburbs was 8.13 percent, or $390, Cook County Assessor James Houlihan's office reported Wednesday. But homeowners in three local townships had the highest median tax increases in the county Schaumburg at 17 percent, Barrington at 11.9 percent and Elk Grove with 11.1 percent. That means half of all homeowners in those townships had increases higher than those figures, and half had lower increases or actual decreases. Only South suburban Thornton and Stickney townships joined those three with double-digit median percentage increases.

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Few homeowners were prepared for such hikes, especially after Bill Vaselopulos, manager of tax extension and accounting in the county clerk's office, said the overall county tax increase was "nominal" this year, up $200 million to $11.3 billion countywide, with a 0.36 rise in Chicago and about 2.5 percent in suburban Cook.

Houlihan's office did not yet provide statistics on tax increases or decreases for business property owners.

But he said homeowners' large tax hikes in most cases stemmed from massive reductions in property assessments won by businesses, not from increased taxes sought by local governments such as schools, libraries and fire districts.

Houlihan said $5 billion was granted in assessment reductions this year, but only $800 million of that went to residential properties. "So much more was given to commercial properties," he added, "and that shifted the burden to homeowners."

Overall, 70 percent of Cook County homeowners and 83 percent of suburban homeowners saw their taxes increase this year, with that increase showing up on second-installment bills mailed last week and due Dec. 13.

Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool, in his unsuccessful campaign to replace the retiring Houlihan as assessor, charged that big assessment reductions granted to commercial properties were shifting the tax burden to homeowners.

A map of the 300 largest assessment reductions granted this year by the Cook County Board of Review, compiled by the Claypool campaign, showed dozens in Schaumburg, including $8.7 million for mall operator Woodfield Associates and $3.4 million for the Woodfield Lake Association, an office development. Joe Berrios, a member of the Board of Review, won election to the county assessor post on Nov. 2.

Schaumburg Township saw big increases in the tax rates for the Roselle and Hoffman Estates fire-protection districts, and two service areas within the village of Schaumburg instituted substantial tax rates after having none in 2008, but otherwise increases were slight. Three areas of Schaumburg actually saw tax rate decreases of more than 10 percent. Yet 93 percent of Schaumburg Township homeowners saw their taxes rise, again highest in the county.

Schaumburg Township Assessor John Lawson has been flooded with complaints, to the point where he's called in police to keep order in the line of taxpayers waiting to see someone in his office.

In other area townships, tax increases hit 87 percent of homeowners in Hanover Township, with a median increase of 5.8 percent; 80 percent of homeowners in Maine Township, with a median increase of 6.3 percent; 81 percent in Palatine Township, with a median increase of 6.4 percent; and 81 percent in Wheeling Township, with a median increase of 8.1 percent

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