Slumping homes sales in Oak Park could be bad news for residents saddled with an increasing tax burden that some say is pushing them out of the village.
Real estate agents told Wednesday Journal that Oak Park's "sweet spot" for home sales has historically been between $400,000 and $600,000, but homes that would have sold in days a couple of years ago are now sitting on the market for as long as a month and a half.
They say the increasing tax burden and a wave of carjackings and other violent crimes in late 2017 and early 2018 are making buyers nervous.
Some residents who have lived in the village for decades are considering leaving because of out-of-control taxes, but that's only part of the story. While some argue that taxes are too much to bear, others have voted in favor of increasing taxes, most recently through approval in April of a $57 million referenda for School District 97 for capital expenses and another for $13.3 million for operating expenses.
Oak Parker Tom Gull said he's owned his home for 28 years and has seen his tax bill increase from $1,700 annually to $12,400 last year.
He said the decision on how much to fund the schools and other public amenities is a delicate balance: "We could be living in an area with crummy schools and higher crime and no parks."
Gull, 58, said he moved to Oak Park because of the diversity and walkability and the fact that many of his friends lived here. But some of that has changed in recent years as he's seen many of his loved ones leave the area for cheaper taxes elsewhere. "I guess it's OK to drive your car to go to your friend's or to church," he said, considering the prospect of leaving the village.
Kitty Conklin, 62, said the tax burden has prompted her and her husband to divest a rental property they own, which was intended to help provide retirement income for them.
"I'm hearing that people who have properties on the market where the asking price is over $800,000 are not getting any lookers at their homes," she said. "I'm hearing a lot of people have already left Oak Park and moved to different states that are not in such a financial mess as Illinois."
Conklin noted that voters rejected $25 million in bonds to build a $45 million pool facility at OPRF High School in 2016, a vote that indicated homeowners have reached a tipping point on taxes. Conklin said she believes voters approved the most recent school referenda because of the way the question was asked.
"It was very complex; it was written as if you needed to be a tax practitioner to understand what the referendum was saying," she said.
Cate Readling, a vocal supporter of the most recent referendum, said she, too, is concerned about taxes in the village but funding for schools is a core value. "It's a fundamental piece of the success of your community to know that you live in a place that values the education of every child … to know you're living in a place that has a very long vision of the future," she said.
Oak Parker Jason Sherman said he, too, has seen his tax bill skyrocket, but noted that he can handle the increase, so far. He said he voted in favor recent school referendum but against the pool referendum. He wants to see a more fiscally prudent assessment of taxpayer funds if more is added to the tax levy.
He believes elected officials are "not spending as smartly but spending as they wish."
"While I could afford the higher taxes, a significant number of my friends are asking me, 'Are you going to move out when your last kid finishes high school?'" he said.
He said many can afford the high property tax burden, but many are choosing not to after their kids are out of school.
For Gull it's not so much an issue of being taxed out of the village as whether or not that's where he wants to spend his money.
"As I approach retirement age, I'd rather pay the money to be on vacation than over $1,000 a month in property taxes," Gull said.
* This story was updated to correct comments made about recent school referenda by Oak Parker Jason Sherman. We regret the error.
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