Property taxes in Oak Park have increased about 20 percent over the last 10 years, adjusted for inflation. Over the last five years, one third of homeowners have seen their property taxes increase by 25 percent or more. Ask yourself, has your income gone up 25 percent in the last five years? The trajectory of property tax growth in Oak Park is unsustainable. Your elected representatives have a rare opportunity to stem this out-of-control growth because of the expiration of an obscure taxing instrument called a “TIF.”
Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is meant to set aside a block of property tax income for special projects, usually to help fund needed infrastructure in blighted areas. For the last few decades Oak Park has had two large TIF funds, one for Downtown Oak Park and one for the Madison Street area. These TIFs are set to expire soon. If these TIFs are allowed to lapse, and all of our taxing bodies limit their tax increases to the rate of inflation, property taxes will actually go down in Oak Park, by about 2 percent*. This will provide much needed property tax relief.
This would be a free tax cut. Free because no taxing body will need to decrease or cut any services. Free because you will see tax relief in your next tax bill even as all of the taxing bodies increase their budgets to match inflation.
But you won’t see this tax cut. Already the various Oak Park taxing bodies are moving to capture the TIF funds, dramatically increasing their budgets on a year over year basis, some by as much as 10 percent. The rationale is that since you are already paying for the TIFs in your tax bill, you won’t notice if those funds are redirected.
The TIF funds are not being taken because there is a need; they are being taken because they can be taken. The taxing bodies are making the calculation that you won’t notice. I am asking you to take notice. I am asking you to write the board members of these taxing bodies and ask them what their plans are for the TIF funds. Demand that they tell you how these funds will be used. Ask them if they understand how damaging the current property tax levels are to the community.
* Note, the elementary schools and high school currently receive about 75 percent of the Downtown Oak Park TIF fund due to a legal agreement, and we cannot reasonably expect them to forego those funds. This calculation replaces that with a tax levy increase, and even allowing for that, we still see an approximate 2 percent cut in our total Oak Park property taxes.