Why property taxes are up for most of Cook County

Property owners in the northern Cook County suburbs can expect an average increase of about $155 on their property tax bills in the coming year, according to data released Thursday by Cook County Clerk David Orr's office.

And while the county saw an overall increase in property values for the first time since the Great Recession, the tax bill spike in the North and Northwest suburbs and Chicago is partly due to a 3.2 percent drop in value in the South suburbs.

"With countywide property taxes, you will see the burden shift to where the value is," said Tanya Anthofer, Orr's manager of tax extension.

Tax bills are due Aug. 1.

Homeowners in the Northwest suburbs will pay a higher portion of the county's $730 million property tax levy, along with higher amounts going to the forest preserve and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

Wheeling property owners will experience the biggest bump in property taxes, according to Orr's data. Average homeowners who live within the boundaries of Wheeling Elementary District 21 can expect an increase of about $410 to their tax bills this year. That's because a village tax hike will increase the average homeowner's bill by 8.2 percent from last year and a District 21 increase will bump the average bill up nearly 14 percent.

"We have significant pension costs and debt combined with an increase in salaries and service costs," Wheeling Village Manager Jon Sfondilis said. "The village has eliminated 40 positions over the past seven years and reduced its operating budget by millions, but if you have lower (property values) and you don't have revenue streams that are strong and well-balanced, this is the situation you find yourself in."

District 21 officials said they sought a $10 million increase in property taxes this year after having a $9 million drop the previous year because officials "didn't anticipate" a drop in property values, Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations Patricia McAndrews said.

Two years ago, the district received nearly $85 million in property taxes, but last year it received just $76 million when property values plummeted nearly $300 million, forcing the district to dip into reserves to the tune of $11.5 million, McAndrews said. This year, District 21 is seeking $86.8 million in property taxes and avoiding the state's tax cap, which limits tax increases to the lesser of the rate of inflation or 5 percent, by using a loophole in the property tax law that's available when property values drop significantly, McAndrews said.

Orr's data also showed the overall property value in the county increased 1.8 percent, while the 1,400-plus taxing bodies are taking in more than $12.3 billion in property taxes combined, a 2.2 percent increase from the $12.1 billion in taxes Cook County property owners paid last year.

While overall property values in the North and Northwest suburbs were up 1.4 percent from last year, actual residential prices continued to decline. The average home was valued at $263,000 this year, compared to $264,580 the previous year.

The growth in property taxes collected by Cook County governments outpaced the 1.5 percent increase in the inflation rate, an indication that many home-rule communities sought more in property taxes than would normally be allowed by the state's tax cap law, Anthofer said. Towns with home-rule powers aren't subject to the tax cap.

There are some who could experience a property tax decrease in the coming year from one or more taxing districts. Most notably, the average homeowner in Mount Prospect Elementary District 57 is expected to pay nearly $100 less in property taxes to the district than last year, according to Orr's data.

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