Tough decisions as tax burden increases

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

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.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

Reader Comments

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Neal Buer  

Posted: July 25th, 2018 7:38 PM

The median household income in Oak Park is $82,828. The question should be this - Should "public servants" earn 50% more than the median household income of the people they serve, and be rewarded with a rich pension when they retire?

Mark Moroney from Oak Park  

Posted: July 25th, 2018 7:05 PM

Mr. Haney you are basically saying we should pay teachers - masters in their field mind you - less than middle class wages in order to relieve your taxes so that you can more fruitfully enjoy your middle class lifestyle. I think more than a handful of residents may disagree with that notion.

Haney Ned  

Posted: July 25th, 2018 11:37 AM

my tax bill is $19,000 per year and D97 takes $7,426 of that. And they had a budget balance of $24mm after June 2018. They have about $54mm in salaries per year. There are 46 teachers that make over $100K per year (over $5.1mm combined annually). Principals take in a total of $2mm annually. Administrative salaries are anywhere from $102K to $211, 470. Here are the board members responsible for overspending and over taxing. Holly Spurlock, Jim O'Connor, Rob Breymaier, Keecia Broy, A Rupa Datta, Katherine Murray-Liebl, Bob Spatz, Sheryl Marinier. If you know these people or run into them, tell them how you feel about all of these taxes that are driving down home values and driving residents out of our village. They need to hear it all day and everyday. See them out at lunch, let them know. See them shopping, let them know. See them walking the neighborhood, let them know!

Haney Ned  

Posted: July 25th, 2018 11:34 AM

my tax bill is $19,000 per year and D97 takes $7,426 of that. And they had a budget balance of $24mm after June 2018. They have about $54mm in salaries per year. There are 46 teachers that make over $100K per year (over $5.1mm combined annually). Principals take in a total of $2mm annually. Administrative salaries are anywhere from $102K to $211, 470. Here are the board members responsible for overspending and over taxing. Holly Spurlock, Jim O'Connor, Rob Breymaier, Keecia Broy, A Rupa Datta, Katherine Murray-Liebl, Bob Spatz, Sheryl Marinier. If you know these people or run into them, tell them how you feel about all of these taxes that are driving down home values and driving residents out of our village. They need to hear it all day and everyday. See them out at lunch, let them know. See them shopping, let them know. See them walking the neighborhood, let them know!

Kline Maureen  

Posted: July 19th, 2018 3:56 PM

Marc, a $500,000 mortgage (with a 20% down payment) translates to a $600,000 home. With the state equalizer @ 2.96 and a local (Oak Park) tax rate of 12,19% that translates to a tax bill of $20,400 (including the Homeowner's exemption) or $1700 per month - 70% higher than your estimate. And JIM, the while I agree some elements of this article are unclear, the reporter DID offer various viewpoints and DID identify the homeowners he quoted, both by name and with some additional background. Who exactly is REPRESENTATIVE of the whole community? And by the way, the NO margin was far greater in Oak Park than River Forest, in part perhaps because our local taxes (apart from D200) are so much higher to begin with.

Marc Martinez from Oak Park  

Posted: July 19th, 2018 1:16 PM

Jim, I agree with your comments on the weaknesses of the article. But for a 30-year, $500,000 mortgage at 4% the monthly payment is $2,500. That house would pay at least $1000 a month in property taxes. Obviously a huge percentage and enough to deter buyers. Particularly when they can get more house for lower price and lower taxes in another suburb. I've lived here for 25 years and my two kids were done with school 15 years ago. I am tired of being an ATM for state and local government. Especially when the profligate school boards not only jack the property tax but also lard the state debt with pension costs. And we also get to pay penalties because the boards won't comply with the pension goosing rules.

Amanda Poppenk Massie from Oak park  

Posted: July 18th, 2018 3:45 PM

Jim, last weeks WJ had an article with an interview of an Oak Park broker. He had all these same facts so you might want to look at that article. This article is true. Peoples houses are staying on the market longer u less ur in the very low range. Potential buyers are have only so much to spend a month on both their payment and taxes. Taxes are a constant so they're buying less of a house to be able to afford to live here. Now the high school wants a Referendum because they want to spend $150,000,000, yes, $150 million plus on a "Facility Plan" than mostly upgrades athletics not the education facilities to get the test scores going up again. We need to do ONLY what's necessary not "the WANTS". NEEDS only.

Jim Frenkel  

Posted: July 18th, 2018 1:52 PM

While I too am concerned about home values and increasing taxes relative to my ability to pay, I'd like to point out how poorly this article was written, amounting to "clickbait." Unnamed realtor sources, anecdotal comments from Oak Parkers who may or may not be representative of the whole, and questionable cause and effect connections (i.e. that the referendum result, rather than the topic being voted on for the referendum constituted a "tipping point) point to an overall poor example of journalism. Verifiable, objective data and anectodal quotes that present both sides are what we should expect when reading an article and coming to our own conclusion. Or at least that's what they're teaching my middle-school kid about how to consume media and think critically. Shape up, Wed Journal!

Renee Geweniger Zoltowski from Oak Park  

Posted: July 18th, 2018 12:35 PM

I have lived in Oak Park for 39 yrs. I stayed for the schools. Now my children are grown and my family has not used the schools for over 10 yrs. I think I have paid back what was used by my children. So we may be looking to move out also. Our taxes were under $2000 when we bought the house in 1993, and are now around 10,000. I did not vote for the referendum. Enough is enough.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: July 18th, 2018 8:38 AM

The headline reads "tough decisions..." but it's not totally clear who is facing these tough decisions. Homeowners? Renters? Buyers? Sellers? All f the above? How about some tough decisions by those serving on the boards of our various taxing bodies (most notably D200, D97 and VOP) as they ponder how to curtail their profligate spending habits.

Joel A. Schoenmeyer  

Posted: July 18th, 2018 8:26 AM

There seems to be a noticeable lack of comment on this issue by our current village president and trustees as well as D97 and D200 board members. Each of them (and each future candidate for village office) needs to be asked the following two questions: (1) by what percentage will you seek to reduce your governmental unit's spending over the next 5 years? (2) how, specifically, are you going to achieve that reduction? And BS answers -- like "we actually need to increase spending" or "I'll form a committee" -- should be automatically disqualifying.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: July 18th, 2018 12:12 AM

It is not just the amount of the property tax, it is also the negative impact on your home value because no one will assume that big tax bill from you unless they can buy the house for less. We need to stop measuring education in total dollars spent, as if you could just buy X amount of it by jacking up taxes more each year. And it increases rents paid too, so it affects everyone.

Kevin Peppard from Oak Park  

Posted: July 17th, 2018 5:52 PM

Mike Nevins: Your quote "We have met the enemy and he is us" is from that great western philosopher. Pogo Possum. He was in the class ahead of me at OPRF, and I learned most of what I know from him. We should have a statue to him at Scoville Park.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: July 17th, 2018 4:40 PM

FWIW, I made some of the same points in this article to the WJ editorial board in regard to the D97 referendum.....and of course that didn't slow them down in endorsing the tax increase. As the quote goes, "we have met the enemy and he is us." I also am grateful for their (WJ) objective reporting in their paper today. And then there was the D97 board issuing an "oops" with the referendum and that they received significantly more than what they told citizens they were seeking - to the tune of $2.6M per year! Did they do the right thing, correct this mistake, and give the money back - in spite of the unprecedented appeal by two sitting VOP board members at their monthly meeting earlier this year? Of course not and their shameful act is now another reason for our obscene tax levels and people attempting to flee this burning ship. My prediction is that this will be the last successful referendum/tax increase in OP for many, many years.

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