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updated: 5/6/2011 5:36 PM

Tax bills don't drop with property value

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Property values may have dropped but that hasn't translated to lower tax bills in Lake County.

Tax bills were mailed Tuesday and as they begin arriving in mailboxes, local agencies have been getting calls.

"Even though your assessment went down, it doesn't mean your bill will go down because the (tax) rate will go up," explained Lake County Treasurer Robert Skidmore. "It's very, very difficult to explain that to a homeowner when they're expecting a decrease in the taxes."

In a pre-emptive strike, county officials posted a video on the news and events section at lakecountyclerk.info to explain the steps and factors involved in calculating property tax bills.

But problems with the site, that began about 3 p.m. Thursday and continued until late Friday afternoon, didn't help.

"We're getting all sorts of calls," Skidmore said Friday morning.

While many factors come into play, the main point is that if taxing bodies generally request the same amount of money or more to operate, tax rates increase to compensate for the lower value of property in a given district.

The result is a higher tax bill than the year before -- about 2.7 percent on average in Lake County.

"But there's quite a wide fluctuation in the average," said Kipp Wilson, tax extension administrator for the Lake County Clerk's office.

"There are also bonds ... that are not part of the calculation. That's going to put them above that 2.7 percent increase."

Property owners can appeal the assessed value of their property, but not the bills. And with a record number of appeals further lowering values "somebody has to make up the difference," Skidmore said.

That also applies to senior citizens who may have been eligible for an assessment freeze, he added.

"It does not freeze the tax rate. Now, all these seniors are getting an increase in their bills of $200, $300 or $400 and they can't understand why."

That's the case even with the state applying a factor -- for the first time in 15 years -- to increase Lake County property values for taxing purposes. By law, the assessed value has to equal one-third of market value.

"If they didn't have that multiplier, the rates would have been even higher," Skidmore said.

Taxing bodies are limited to 5 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less, in the amount they request each year from taxpayers.

"In order for the (tax) bills to go down, spending (by taxing bodies) has to level off or decrease and that isn't happening," Libertyville Township Assessor Peggy Freese said.

She noted government requests for funds for the 2010 tax year, on which current bills are based, dropped in only five of the 33 taxing authorities in Libertyville Township. Those were Diamond Lake School District 76; the Lake County Forest Preserve District; Lake Forest High School District 115; the village of Mettawa; and, Libertyville Township.

"It's based on what the taxing district asks for," Wilson said. "They should expect this for at least a year -- property values going down but not reflected in the tax bills."

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