In 2012, property tax owners paid over $168 million to fund our various local governmental bodies. Ten years ago, we paid $109 million to fund those same governmental functions. That represents a 54% increase in the cost of government as reflected in our property tax bills over the last 10 years. In the last four years (the term length for any current board member standing for reelection), the overall levy increased by $25 million, an increase of 18.5%. There has been a lot written in the newspapers and online about the source of this increase. The purpose of this viewpoint is to provide a factual framework around those conversations prior to the upcoming municipal elections.
In Oak Park, we have many elected boards that lead our various public institutions. Each of those boards make independent decisions as to what they believe is in the best interest of the community. Those decisions then get reflected in the cumulative property tax levy. The accompanying chart lists Oak Park's major taxing bodies and shows the size of their levy and its growth since the 2007 levy that was paid in 2008.
District 97 had the largest absolute increase in their property tax levy ($10.3 million) consistent with the referendum that the voters passed in April 2011. The Village of Oak Park had the second largest absolute increase in property taxes and the largest percent change in property taxes during the last four years. The $5.3 million increase in property taxes, or 30.7% did not require a voter referendum because the Village of Oak Park is a home-rule community and is therefore exempt from state tax cap legislation. Compared to other taxing bodies, the village of Oak Park is also less dependent upon property tax revenue. During that same period, all of the other Oak Park taxing bodies increased their levy by an average of 15.9% versus the village's increase of 30.7%.
Comparing property taxes across municipalities is a difficult task. The Civic Federation, an independent non-partisan government organization, produces an annual study in which they estimate the effective property tax rates across selected communities in Northeastern Illinois. It is a measure of the property tax burden placed on homeowners and businesses. In January 2013 they released their updated analysis which covers 2010 property taxes paid in 2011. Oak Park has the third highest effective property tax rate in Cook County and generally Cook County property owners pay higher property taxes than in the collar counties.
The following chart from the Civic Federation puts our relative property tax position into an overall context:
As Oak Parkers, we like to compare ourselves to Evanston. In terms of residential property taxes, our effective property tax rate of 3.31% is more than 50% higher than the Evanston rate of 2.17%. This disparity underscores the need to elect government officials who will strive to put the utmost efficiency into our local governmental operations.
There is no indication that property taxes can ever go down in a community like Oak Park. We demand top-notch services across all of the governmental bodies. However, we do need to elect officials who understand the property tax burden everyone pays by choosing to live in this community and the impact it has on the long-term economic vitality of the community. It takes more than lip service to minimize the ever-increasing cost of government. They also need to remember that all of those "modest" increases approved across all of those independent boards do add up to a significant and regular increase in our property tax bills.
Nile Wendorf is a 20-year resident of Oak Park.