Dede Wamberg doesn't mind that her hometown of Barrington Hills collects nearly $1,618 in property taxes in a year for every resident of the tony suburb.
She just wants the money spent wisely.
“I don't think the taxes deter people from moving to the Barrington Hills area,” Wamberg said. “I'm just concerned when our tax dollars go toward things the majority of people in the community don't use.”
In 2010, Barrington Hills collected roughly $6.8 million in property taxes, mainly from its 4,209 residents, according to the village's property tax data.
“It's cash and carry,” said Robert Kosin, Barrington Hills' director of administration. “If you really wanted to see what you can buy with your property taxes, Barrington Hills would be the closest you could get since we don't have a sales tax and no permitting (fees).”
Among 83 suburbs spread throughout six counties, Barrington Hills has the highest per capita property tax collection of any of the suburbs. Next is Rosemont at $1,382 per resident in 2010, but each year that village returns most, if not all, of the property taxes collected to its residents. South Barrington is next at $563 worth of property taxes collected per person. The average amount among the suburbs is about $283 per resident.
Per capita property taxes — the amount of taxes collected from all types of property owners divided by the population — is one measure that allows residents and government officials to gauge the cost of providing municipal services.
Compared to Barrington Hills, the flip side is Prospect Heights, where a little more than $16 was collected for each of the city's 16,256 residents in 2010. That's the lowest per capita amount among the 83 communities analyzed.
“We don't really have a property tax,” said City Administrator Anne Marrin. “That money collected is a mandatory police pension tax to make the pension correct.”
Getting by on revenue generated by income, sales and motor fuel taxes has often been tricky for the community, Marrin said. At one point in the not-too-distant past, Prospect Heights closed its police station to the public because of funding problems that resulted in cutting staff. The city has since reopened the station.
“As the people of Prospect Heights have seen, when the economy tanks, people leave or have to because we don't have the money to pay them,” she said. “It's extremely hard not having a reliable form of revenue streams and being at the mercy of the economy.”
Staffing cuts were not uncommon in recent years throughout municipal government, where personnel is the greatest expense.
Jim Tobin, president of Taxpayers United of America, said lean times force local governments to focus limited resources on what's important to the people who live in the communities.
“The more upset the apple cart becomes, the more likely we'll get tax relief,” he said.
Nationally, Illinois ranked 30th among the states in per capita tax revenue collected in 2011. Over the past decade, the state's ranking has fluctuated between having the 24th highest per capita figure and the 34th, according to data collected by the General Assembly's Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.
The 2011 state income tax increase is likely to raise the state in rank to 18 in 2012, the commission predicts.
“Looking at these figures on a per capita basis allows you to compare Illinois with other states of comparable sizes and within the region,” said Dan Long, executive director of the commission.
Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson said his village's higher-than-average per capita figure is the result of a large daytime employee population at the massive 5.5-square-mile business park. The village collected nearly $15.5 million in property taxes in 2010, or about $468 for each of its 33,127 residents, according to tax extension figures from the county clerk's offices in Cook and DuPage counties.
“We have almost 100,000 people working in our business park, which takes up almost half our town,” he said. “Because of that we have two extra fire stations, 45 extra police officers, and our public works department is almost double what it would be at half our size.”
Johnson points to the village's property tax rate as the true barometer of the village's financial health, saying it's one of the lowest in the suburbs.
“That's where we're good,” he said.
The financial welfare of government at all levels has been an ongoing hot-button issue. Tobin said he hears nothing but complaints about government spending. He believes residents need to educate themselves on governmental finances because the only way to make true changes is at the ballot box.
“Otherwise, we deserve what we have,” he said.