Updated: August 8, 2013 6:57AM
Cook County homeowners got their property tax bills last week, and most were annoyed, if not angered, to learn what most of their Will County counterparts did two months ago — despite lower home values that still have a long way to recover from the impact of the Great Recession, the tax bill was higher.
The property tax system is needlessly complex and confusing, especially in Cook County, and the tax is excessive largely due to the state of Illinois ranking near the bottom among the states in its share of funding public education. About two-thirds of your tax bill goes to local schools, which are heavily dependent on the property tax because the state has failed to meet its constitutional mandate that it has the “primary responsibility for financing” the public schools.
The tax also is regressive because it’s not based on ability to pay, hitting homeowners in property-poor communities harder than those in a town with a strong tax base. A homeowner in Park Forest, for example, has a higher bill than the owner of a comparable home in Joliet because of Joliet’s lower tax rate from its large commercial and industrial tax base.
Another major reason that your tax bill has been creeping higher in recent years is local government, both its spending and its numbers.
Each taxing district (your town, school districts, park district, township, etc.) annually sets a tax levy, or the amount it seeks from the property tax for its budget. The tax rate equation is based on that amount and the district’s total property value. Usually, the higher the levy, the higher the rate and the higher your bill.
Adding to that, there are simply too many units of local government — about 1,500 in Cook County and about 7,000 statewide, far more than any other state, including about 900 school districts, a third of which have only one school.
This page has banged the drum loudly for consolidating local government and eliminating unneeded taxing bodies, such as townships. Public officials resist because that would mean fewer jobs, including some of their jobs.
Maybe you haven’t cared much about local government spending or consolidation. After looking at your tax bill, maybe you should.