A drop in people, a $1 billion rise in property taxes
Property tax collections by local governments in Illinois increased nearly $1 billion between 2017 and 2018 even as the state lost thousands of residents over that year.
Combined, 6,042 local governments received $31.8 billion in property taxes last year, according to Illinois Department of Revenue reports. That was $944 million more than what was collected in 2017 by those agencies.
Meanwhile, the state lost 45,116 residents in 2018, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. That increased the tax burden on the remaining population to pay for services provided by towns, schools, counties and other local governments.
Statewide, local governments combined to collect $2,496 in property taxes for every resident in 2018, up from $2,413 per person in 2017, according to a Daily Herald analysis. In Cook and the collar counties, the amount of property taxes collected per resident is even higher.
The results of the analysis highlight the number of local governments in Illinois -- the most in the nation -- as well as how much local governments rely on property taxes, government finance experts said. Local governments that collect property taxes also include townships, park districts and a bevy of smaller specialized agencies that oversee operations of libraries, fire protection districts and other amenities.
Ralph Martire, executive director of the bipartisan Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, said that while the state's population decline has been much ballyhooed, it's not enough to move the needle on local government expenses.
"Public services are labor-intensive," he said. "The population shifts would have to be much more dramatic to allow local government authorities to significantly reduce head count."
Property taxes are the primary funding source for schools and many other local government agencies, said Laurence Msall, head of The Civic Federation, a nonpartisan government research organization that specializes in Illinois tax and financial policy. He said that while property tax increases are limited by a state tax cap law, that only applies to local governments in certain parts of the state, it can be overridden by home-rule authority, and the cap affects only certain parts of local governments' overall property tax levy.
Msall believes consolidation of local governments would reduce administrative and personnel costs, which are the largest drivers of local government expenses.
"Costs are not tied to delivering services to a smaller and stagnant population. They are tied to the historical levels of expense," he said. "Unless (Illinois) chooses to force consolidation and efficiency, the overhead remains fairly constant."
While it is true that property tax revenue continues to grow each year, 2018 was the first year since 2014 that the single-year increase fell below $1 billion statewide, according to the IDOR reports.
More than 80% of the new property tax revenue came from Cook and the collar counties, which lost a combined 25,346 residents from 2017 to 2018.
In Cook County, local governments collected $2,899 per resident in 2018. That was $117 per person more than in 2017, according to the analysis. Cook County's plethora of local governments were responsible for more than half the additional property tax revenue collected last year statewide.
DuPage County's local governments collected $3,138 in property taxes for every resident in 2018, up $88 from the year before. Local governments in Lake County collected $3,422 in property taxes per resident in 2018, up $75 per person from 2017.
In Kane County, local governments received $2,499 per person in taxes, up $62 from last year's per-person cost. In McHenry County, it was $2,724 for every resident, up just $20. And in Will County, local governments collected $2,801 per person, up $80 from 2017.
Increasingly, that cost is borne by homeowners rather than businesses. Nearly two-thirds of the property taxes collected in Illinois come from homeowners. In 1999, residential property taxes made up barely half the total property tax collection in the state.
Here's how much in property taxes local governments combined to collect per resident in 2017 and 2018.
Local governments' taxes rising
County 2018 2017
Cook $2,899 $2,783
DuPage $3,138 $3,050
Kane $2,499 $2,436
Lake $3,422 $3,347
McHenry $2,724 $2,704
Will $2,801 $2,721
Source: Daily Herald analysis of IDOR and U.S. Census Bureau records
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