Suburban Cook County residents angry, frustrated and surprised by higher property tax bills arriving in the mail this week lined up at area township assessors' offices Tuesday seeeking answers.
"I almost had a heart attack," Dan Pappas of Mount Prospect said of his reaction to his property tax bill. "Unbelievable. It went way up. My first payment was $2,600. This payment went up to $5,500. It's nuts."
Pappas was among more than a dozen senior residents waiting at the Elk Grove Township assessor's office Tuesday for deputies to review and correct any discrepancies with their tax bills.
Township officials have been dealing with a flurry of inquiries from taxpayers and expect it to go on for days, Elk Grove Township Supervisor Nanci Vanderweel said.
"Being the second half of the tax for the year, which was supposed to be 45 percent of the last bill, it's gone up," Vanderweel said. "And people are coming in wanting to know why, are they getting all their proper deductions, and how can they protest."
Homeowners 65 years and older who previously automatically received senior exemptions, had to reapply this year. Deputy assessors also are making sure qualifying homeowners receive their senior freeze, Vanderweel said.
"If it's going to require something further than what we can do, they would get referred to the Board of Review in Cook County," she added.
Vanderweel said the township's own property tax levy was supposed to increase by just under 4 percent for all taxpayers, including commercial, industrial, and residential properties. However, it ended up being an increase of about 11 percent in the general town fund levy due to other factors.
"With foreclosures in the commercial and industrial areas, with vacant properties, with (Cook County) Board of Review giving reductions, they have shifted (the tax burden) from commercial and industrial to make up for the levy. They have shifted it onto the residents," Vanderweel said.
The "they" Vanderweel is referring to is Cook County.
"I can't levy more than 5 percent," Vanderweel explained. "We are under a tax cap. But if they are shifting away from places that no longer can pay,
who's left? Residents."
Tax rates for schools, park districts, municipalities and other government bodies all are up, some with double-digit percentage increases, according to a list released by Cook County Clerk David Orr.
Contributing to the higher property tax rates is a decline in Northwest suburban commercial and residential property values that dipped on average between 2.6 percent and 11 percent, depending on the township.
Even if individual property owners' assessments dropped, it doesn't automatically result in lower tax bills.
Higher bills for property owners may be the result of neighbors winning significant assessment reductions from the county's Board of Review, or highly valued commercial properties receiving lower assessments.
Nearly 380,000 assessments were appealed this year, second only to last year's total of 430,000. Commercial appeals accounted for roughly 260,000 requests, while residential property owners lodged nearly 116,000 appeals, according to the county's Board of Review.
Frustrated homeowners say they are being taxed out of their homes.
"It's just ridiculous and I'm not paying it," said Mariann Murray of Des Plaines. "I didn't get any exemptions. It's $2,000 more than what I expected to be paying."
Taxes are due Nov. 1.
Murray said she's going to apply the same deductions she received last year and pay the remainder.