At a time when property values have gone down considerably, many suburbs have sharply increased how much they're receiving in property taxes.
More than two dozen towns throughout the suburbs have raised property taxes by more than 20 percent since 2006, according to an analysis of five years' worth of property tax records.
Among 83 suburban municipalities stretching over seven counties, all but one increased property tax revenue over the five years, despite a flagging economy.
Just three years ago, Schaumburg property owners didn't have to pay any property taxes to the village. In the two years that followed, they were on the hook for almost $47 million.
“We had a $17 million hole in the budget,” Schaumburg Mayor Al Larson explained. “We had been putting it off and using our reserves hoping the recession would not be as deep as it was. We were so reliant on sales tax that when people stopped buying, that dried up.”
The town of Third Lake also enacted a property tax in the last five years.
Volo's property tax revenue is 400 percent higher than it was five years ago, but its population has also essentially doubled in that time, contributing to the village's increased tax allotment.
Bensenville saw its property tax revenue increase by nearly 148 percent over five years. Inverness and Lake Barrington also saw the amounts they were allowed to collect increase by more than 100 percent over the five years.
Critics complain that towns haven't done enough to relieve tax burdens on their residents, noting that taxes went up despite decreases in property values, stagnating wages of property owners and a higher cost of living. They suggest cutting or consolidating underperforming programs and services, eliminating redundant positions and reducing personnel costs.
“I'm not surprised,” said Jim Tobin, president of Chicago-based Taxpayers United of America. “They should always be frugal, especially during a recession. Instead, they are continually expanding their taxing powers to feed the bureaucracy.”
Residential property owners often bear the brunt of the additional taxes. That's because commercial property owners average better results and receive larger reductions from property tax appeals, according to previous Daily Herald analyses.
Larson said he hopes that someday the village's property tax will be eliminated, but he points to more than 100 village positions that have been eliminated over the past five years and a more than $1 million decrease in property tax revenue in the last year.
“We did eliminate some services and our labor force has been reduced substantially,” he said. “But we run into these unforeseen events like the emerald ash borer, which is threatening 60 to 70 percent of our urban forest.”
Recently, Schaumburg officials announced plans to spend some $9 million over the next decade to combat the tree-destroying insect, which might thwart village officials' plans to decrease property taxes further.
Volo officials said the property tax revenue spike is due to the population boom the village has experienced in the past decade. Though voters granted the village home-rule powers, which includes the ability to increase taxes without a vote of the people, officials said they have been careful not to exploit that particular caveat of the home-rule law.
“We don't collect our home-rule tax,” Village President Burnell Russell said. “We abate it every year. We're very aware of the fact that we don't want our taxes to go up.”
But still, Volo is taking in more property tax revenue per resident than it was five years ago, according to the tax records.
That's why Tobin said his organization continues to fight against ballot questions that would grant municipalities home-rule powers to tax at will. He said Taxpayers United is opposing such measures in Clarendon Hills, Itasca and Prospect Heights.
“They are constantly trying to raise our taxes,” he complained. “If they have home rule, they can tax just about anything. That's why it's so dangerous.”
But almost all of the suburbs that saw property tax revenue drop in the past year had home-rule powers. Bartlett, Elgin, Glendale Heights, Lincolnshire, Naperville, Schaumburg and South Barrington are all home-rule communities that experienced single-year dips in their property tax levies of between 5 percent and 0.5 percent. Hainesville and Sugar Grove also had lower tax revenue than the previous year, records showed.
Elburn is the lone suburb of the 83 analyzed where property tax revenue in 2010 was less than it was five years before.
“What we determined a little over three years ago was that we were going to hold the line to the best of our abilities,” said Dave Anderson, Elburn's village president. “There's things we'd like to do, but in your own home it's no different. If you don't have the money to pay for something, you can't do it.”
But Elburn's tax levy is ticking up. After years of declining property tax receipts, the village received a 3.5 percent increase last year.
And it could go higher because of pension requirements for the city's police force, Anderson warned. Elburn voters will be asked to support a property tax hike March 20 to pay for the creation of a police pension fund, he said.
“If it doesn't pass, we'll have to look at other ways to save,” Anderson said. “Maybe instead of rolling out snowplows with two inches on the ground, we'll wait until it gets to four inches before we start removing snow.”
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