Gary H. Smith
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Is Government Debt Influencing Your Tax Hike in Illinois?

By Gary Smith
Is Government Debt Influencing Your Tax Hike in Illinois?

Illinois has the second-highest property tax in the nation, according to many national tax studies, and a lot of that money goes toward funding education and government pensions, per the Illinois Constitution. Now Cook County residents can see how much government debt is tied to their property taxes.

Cook County Treasurer Tool Shows Debt

In Cook County, debt expense comes from about 2,200 government entities, which range from cities and townships to park districts and libraries. The debt comes from paying off past services and salaries through government bonds, loans, and unfunded pensions from each entity.

Now, the Cook County Treasurer’s office has created a tool so that property owners in Cook County can see how much government debt is tied to their property. For instance, in the city of Chicago, the treasurer’s study shows that about $41,000 of debt is tied to every $100,000 in property value.

In an ABC 7 I-Team analysis of the treasurer’s data, more than half of the 20 cities or villages with the highest debt to property value were in minority communities. Of the 20 villages or cities with the lowest debt to property value, only one is a minority community.

To use the Cook County Treasurer’s tool, you either need the Property Identification Number or the address. This means that prospective property buyers also have access to this information.

Impact on Homeownership in Cook County

High property taxes are making property ownership less of an investment and more of a burden. The cost of homeownership nationwide declined by 19% relatives to the pre-housing bubble in 2002-2004, but that cost of homeownership in Illinois hasn’t declined at all. Illinois property tax rates increased 38 percent from the pre-housing bubble to the post-recession period while the average of the rest of the country was an 8 percent increase.

From Census Bureau data, the average household nationwide spends about $2,471 on residential property taxes each year while the Illinois average is $4,942 on a median-valued home of $217,500.

Commercial properties are also getting hit, as Cook County operates on a dual system of taxation, which means that businesses and commercial properties are assessed for tax purposes at 25 percent of fair market value, while residential properties are assessed at 10 percent of fair market value, placing more of a tax burden on commercial properties.