This week Cook County Clerk David Orr announced that residential property taxes in Chicago will increase by an average of 10% for upcoming tax bills. That sounds like a big increase, but compared to other municipalities, the amount of property tax Chicagoans are paying on average is still less than other parts of Illinois. But expect the picture to get worse, since we should expect significant additional property tax increases with every coming year in the foreseeable future.
Clerk Orr’s 2016 Property Tax Report puts the big 10% Chicago increase number right at the top of his email press release. But then, buried in an attached PDF document, are some other interesting numbers. Like the fact that on average, Chicago’s 10% average increase will mean about $363.15 more per homeowner. That kind of money hurts, but it’s not devastating. Another buried tidbit is especially interesting:
“On average, the 2016 property tax bill for a home with a market value of $200,000 would be:
- Chicago: $3,505.62
- North suburbs: $4,544.80
- South suburbs: $6,566.73”
So maybe things aren’t so bad in Chicago. But why such a big difference between city and suburban taxes? It’s because suburban residents are generally taxed at a higher rate, especially those in the South Suburbs, because there’s so little commercial and manufacturing property to share the burden and bring in sales taxes to local governments.
I don’t want to lessen the impact of these increases. After all, as a Chicago homeowner, I’m not looking forward to an increased property tax bill either. But the gap between what Chicagoans pay in property taxes versus what suburbanites and everyone else in Illinois is an oft-cited fact for those who say Chicago has “room” for more taxes.
We should get ready for that room to be occupied in the coming years, due to three big expenses Chicago will soon have to shoulder. First, City Council already approved a gradual rise of property taxes through 2018 (and likely beyond) in the 2016 budget. In order to pay for the police and fire pensions, City Council approved stepped property tax increases through 2018, and the pension payment schedule they approved in 2016 essentially guarantees increases through 2054.
Second, Chicago Public Schools are de facto bankrupt and are operating with a $1 billion structural deficit. While CPS CEO Forrest Claypool and Mayor Rahm Emanuel continue to call for additional state spending, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that a significant portion of CPS’ annual deficit will have to be made up by increasing local property taxes–the only significant way Illinois schools legally can raise revenues.
Finally, as Police Board President Lori Lightfoot says in my podcast interview with her this week, the price tag for reforming the Chicago police department is tens of millions of dollars per year. I think she’s undercounting, since the dozens, if not hundreds of people needed to manage the reform effort (Lightfoot says Los Angeles’ reform process employed close to 200 people), the new police academy desperately needed, and new equipment for and extensive training of existing officers will all cost some serious money.
The picture is getting clearer: Chicago is going to have to raise taxes in a big way in the near future just to keep pace.
Later this month, we’ll begin to see if Mayor Emanuel and his new budget director, Samantha Fields, see that picture too, as the city’s Comprehensive Annual Finance Report (CAFR) gets its annual late June release. The CAFR provides the city with a first bite at the budget apple, as it assesses how everything worked out in the last fiscal year. The report doesn’t suggest new spending, but it can give a hint of where the city thinks its real financial problems lie.
In the meantime, enjoy the summer weather!