Tax bills increase despite drop in property value in Lake County

Tax bills are arriving in Lake County mailboxes and what most property owners will see is a drop in property values but no corresponding relief in the amount due.

It is similar to last year, when most taxing bodies asked for the maximum and tax rates rose to generate the requested amount.

“Unfortunately, that's a common misconception — that the property value goes down, the bill goes down,” said Kipp Wilson, tax extension administrator for the Lake County Clerk's office. “The ones who are really hard hit are the minority of those where property values actually increased from last year. That's the exception but it's out there.”

One byproduct of that combination was a boost in property assessment appeals — most of which were successful — to a record number for a fifth consecutive year. However, experts note all that does is spread the pain to others. Tax bills are due in equal installments June 6 and Sept. 6.

“If they reduce their burden, it shifts to other properties,” said Marty Paulson, the chief county assessment officer.

Appeals increased from about 17,000 for 2010 assessments to about 25,500 last year.

Because of the volume of successful appeals and drops in value, the Illinois Department of Revenue in early April issued an equalization factor, known as a multiplier, to ensure all Lake County properties are assessed at one-third of market value.

The multiplier usually is a nonfactor and does not change the assessed value of property. But this year, the multiplier will increase assessed values 2.81 percent for tax billing purposes.

Generally, taxing bodies are limited to asking for 5 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less, as an increase in taxes over the previous year. The inflation rate last year was about 1.5 percent.

But the value of all property in Lake County for 2011 taxes paid in 2012 dropped nearly 7 percent to a total of about $26.7 billion. Lower values means the tax rate increases to generate the amount of money local governments requested.

Combining that value decrease with the inflation increase gives a ballpark of how much an average bill went up, according to Wilson.

“Which means that if somebody's property values stayed the same, that would amount to an 8.5 percent increase in their tax bill,” he said.

The amount of increase depends on where you are, as property values dropped by varying amounts in all 18 townships. Owners in Libertyville Township, where values dipped 3.3 percent, fared better than those in Waukegan Township, where the slide was 13.8 percent, for example.

Libertyville Township Assessor Peggy Freese said she hasn't received the volume of calls she expected but taxpayers have noticed.

“Assessments are going down but the taxing districts are still asking for more money, so your bill is going to go up,” she said. “We tell people they need to get involved (by) going to their taxing district meetings.”

Of 185 taxing bodies subject to the tax cap, 128 were reduced because they levied over the limit, Wilson said. About two-thirds of county townships levied less than the cap but townships represent a small percentage of the overall bill.

“Once again, there's been no reform or impetus to reform the taxing bodies,” said Steve Minsky, vice president of the Grayslake-based Citizens Action Project, formed in 2007 in response to high assessments.

The group is working on a template to reduce tax bills, expected to be released this fall.

“There's just a lot of government waste, let's put it that way,” he said.

Lake County streamlines property assessment appeal process

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