Griffin: Taxes grow even as property values drop
Study of townships from 2009 to 2013 shows how tax bills could be a hardship
The amount of property taxes owed by Avon Township property owners last year was 14.7 percent of the assessed value of all the property there.
Five years earlier, it was just 9.5 percent.
The growth of the tax portion in that Lake County township is the biggest among 44 suburban townships analyzed by the Daily Herald for tax years 2009 to 2013. But property owners in other townships like Hanover and Leyden in Cook County, Wayne in DuPage County and Dundee in Kane County are in similar positions.
It's one way of showing how homeowners' taxes can rise even as their property values drop.
"That's huge," said Rae Ann McNeilly, executive director of Taxpayers United of America. "For the average citizen, their home is their most valuable asset, so when it decreases in value, that hits them very hard. When their tax bill is higher, they're squeezed out."
During those five years, properties in Avon Township, which includes much of the Round Lake area, experienced a 32.8 percent decrease in value, while property tax obligations increased by 3.5 percent.
On average, the equalized assessed value of the 44 townships decreased by 26.8 percent during those five years. Meanwhile, taxing bodies in those townships averaged an 8.3 percent increase in tax levies.
In every township, the property taxes owed grew as a percentage of the overall assessed value. The growth in taxes owed compared to property values tended to be most pr nounced in less affluent areas.
"Some areas were hit harder than others," said Craig Dovel, DuPage County supervisor of assessments. "You look at those communities and maybe the market didn't do as well."
In Naperville Township, property owners in 2009 owed taxes equaling 6.7 percent of the total assessed value of the township's properties. Five years later taxes were 8.5 percent of the total assessed value, an increase smaller than the average 3.1-percentage-point growth. The situation was similar in townships like Downers Grove, Cuba and Ela.
Many property owners seek lower assessments as a way of reducing their tax burden. However, since the Great Recession began in 2008, every owner essentially saw a decrease in property value while taxes continued to climb, erasing any financial benefit for most individuals.
The biggest drop in assessed value over the five years was in Hanover Township, with a 36.4 percent decrease. Maine, Elk Grove and Schaumburg townships in Cook County each saw assessed values drop by 34.7 percent during that time, according to assessment records.
Batavia Township property owners saw the smallest decline in property values with a 15.8 percent drop between 2009 and 2013.
Dovel believes the residential market is stabilizing and could soon grow.
"You have to remember, (assessors) are looking at a three-year history," he said.
In 2009, taxpayers in all 44 townships owed more than $7.4 billion in property taxes. By 2013, that figure had increased to a little more than $8 billion, according to tax extension records from the treasurers' offices in Cook, Kane and Lake counties and the DuPage County clerk's office.
Property owners in Kane County's Aurora Township saw their property tax obligations increase just one-half of 1 percent from 2009 to 2013. Meanwhile, property owners in Rutland and Plato townships in Kane County had property tax increases of more than 26 percent during that time span.
Property owners in Wauconda Township in Lake County also saw their property tax obligation increase by more than 20 percent, according to the tax records.
"It's scary when you think about it because you really don't own your home," McNeilly said.
"You can't keep your property if you don't pay your hefty tax bill."