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Property tax bills headed up in Cook, despite down economy

Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Crain's Chicago Business

Despite falling property values and even a lower state multiplier, Cook County land owners will be paying slightly more in property taxes this tax year, Cook County Clerk David Orr disclosed Tuesday.

And for homeowners, the hit will be a little harder, as a special tax break designed to help them phases out.

"Real estate taxation is unique and different from all other taxation," said Bill Vaselopulos, manager of Mr. Orr's tax extension department, which released its annual report today. What counts isn't just how much your property is worth but how much local governments want to collect, and that figure is higher, he said.

Overall, the gross amount that local governments collectively are taxing for 2011 has gone up 0.47 percent, or about $100 million, to $11.73 billion. Included in that total tax extension are levies by the city, county, other municipalities in Cook County, school districts and other units that impose a property tax.

That 0.47 percent hike is lower than in most recent years.

However, that increase will be somewhat greater for homeowners because the state is phasing out a special tax cap known as the 7 percent solution. In the city, for instance, that means a homeowner will be able to exclude only $12,000 in equalized assessed valuation on his property this year, down from $20,000 two years ago.

The bottom line: Taxes on commercial and residential properties will be a little lower than they would have been, as homeowners pay a greater share of total tax extension. But homeowners will pay more — on average, about $150 a year each in Chicago. And that comes on top of the overall 0.47 percent hike.

Most major units of government held their levy about constant. But Chicago Public Schools wants $41 million more, moving to a total of $2.16 billion, and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District raised its levy about $20 million, to $477 million.

The actual tax rate — the amount of tax per $1,000 in property value — is down in most cases, reflecting the drop in land values. So is the state-imposed multiplier, which is designed to equalize property values for tax purposes statewide and is down 10 percent.

But that doesn't matter if local governments want more money. That just forces the rates up.

Mr. Orr emphasizes that while his office sets the rates, it only does the math of applying the levy to land values to determine each property owner's share of the total bill.

One other piece of "good news": Second-half Cook County tax bills are hitting the mail any day now — months earlier than last year. That means you'll have to pay earlier than in most recent years, but local governments won't have to borrow funds to tide them over and they won't have to pay interest on that borrowing.


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