Speaking Out: Can we do something about our tax bills? Yes, and we should work on it
Our tax bills are a perennial concern and we all tend to wonder "how did these bills get so high?"
There are the costs of our local governments, and there are the facts and actions that affect those costs. What, if anything, can we do?
On a fundamental level, make sure you have all exemptions to which you are entitled, that you are not over assessed, and pursue appeals.
As for the costs of local government, most suburban taxing bodies have costs that generally increase from year to year. Nevertheless, you can have an impact by looking at budgets and urging your local taxing bodies to get the most bang for their buck. Likewise different uses of property can have impacts, with some generating more revenue and others generating more costs, which is always a balancing of the pros and cons.
Case in point: The various factors present in the Bears' purchase of Arlington Park and the Allstate sale of their campus in Northfield Township to a logistics company. Consider the added related costs of infrastructure to serve the developments and the effects -- for better or worse -- on schools or neighborhood traffic versus added revenue. You should speak up if you believe you have sound reasons for supporting or opposing a use.
On certain costs it is a matter of priorities on what is needed most as opposed to other things that would be nice. Whether to build a new building or remodel or retrofit an existing facility are examples on that front. Priorities are things you should speak out about to help local officials weigh in on where the community stands, and in turn, impact your tax bills.
Not to be overlooked are outside facts and forces that affect the cost of local government. Decisions of the marketplace often determine what businesses are in a community and what types of revenues are generated through vehicles like sales taxes. Decisions made in Springfield can have a major impact on the cost of government. Creating unfunded mandates merely requires local taxpayers to pick up the tab on their tax bills, but some mandates may be in the overall public interest. Generally requiring something without providing the funding is just shifting the cost, like pensions or related benefits where Springfield votes to increase and have to be paid at the local level.
Oftentimes, while local governments are holding the line, these passed-on costs become millions of dollars that have to be added to local tax bills. Funding levels are also a key component. When Springfield talks about cutting the Distributive Fund -- which are local shares of income taxes -- you will be paying more locally.
Our schools, for example, represent a big portion of our tax bills. We are clearly overly reliant on property taxes to support our schools. Until Illinois can do significantly better on funding education, we will not see significant reductions in property taxes. This is a big challenge due to other fixed costs, especially pensions and the concerns on raising revenue fairly. That means shifting to a more fair tax structure. Similarly we need to do something about pensions, but must be mindful of the rights of pension members under our Constitution.
More revenue in a fair manner, pension reforms and education funding, and real estate tax reductions are all somewhat dependent on each other. I urge all to realize that, and to become advocates on all those fronts. We can do something about our real estate taxes, but we need to understand it will take work on many fronts.
But we can have an impact, and we sure ought to try.
• Elliott Hartstein of Northbrook is an attorney and a former Buffalo Grove village president. If you are interested in possibly discussing this topic further over Zoom with Elliott and others, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.