A new report by Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas found that Oak Park ranks in the top 10 suburbs that experienced the biggest percentage increase in total commercial property taxes.
For the 2020 tax year, Oak Park stands to collect $54.2 million in total commercial taxes, an increase of 20% over the 2019 tax year, when the village collected $45.1 million in total commercial tax revenue, according to the study.
That ranks Oak Park sixth in a group of highly taxed, predominantly Black and Brown suburbs like Ford Heights, Posen, Park Forest and Flossmoor.
When median commercial property taxes are considered, however, River Forest saw a much sharper increase than Oak Park. Oak Park’s median commercial property tax bill for the 2020 tax year rose by 12%, going from $22,815 in 2019 to $25,626.
In River Forest, the total commercial tax revenue collected for 2020 was $5.8 million, up 13% over 2019.
The report found a more modest increase in residential property taxes in Oak Park and River Forest. In Oak Park, the median residential property tax for the 2020 tax year was $10,422, an increase of $246 over the 2019 median. In River Forest, the median residential property tax for 2020 was $13,296, an increase of $305 over the 2019 median.
The treasurer’s analysis comes as her office mails out second installment property tax bills, which are due Oct. 1.
“The new bills will bring the total amount billed countywide for 2020 to more than $16.1 billion, an increase of more than 3.4% from last year,” treasurer’s office officials said in a statement released Aug. 23.
They added that taxpayers can pay the bills online at cookcountytreasurer.com. Late payments are charged 1.5% per month, which is required by state law.
Referencing the report, Pappas said the property tax increases have been hitting commercial owners and residential property owners in Black and Brown communities hardest.
“In what has become an all-too-familiar story, majority Black and Latino communities are being hardest hit with property tax increases,” Pappas’ office wrote. “That’s true for both homeowners and businesses in those areas.”
For instance, in nearby Proviso Township, Bellwood was hardest hit, with the average property owner expected to see a nearly $2,000 increase in median taxes owed — from $4,164 in tax year 2019 to $6,033 in tax year 2020.
In fact, Bellwood had the highest total residential property tax increase among all Cook County municipalities. Maywood ranked second-highest while Berkeley ranked third-highest.
In the report, Pappas’ office said the large increase in tax bills are due to changes in how properties are valued for tax purposes.
“These property valuations, conducted by the Cook County Assessor’s Office, determine what portion of the overall tax burden is paid by each individual property owner,” the treasurer’s office said.
“The Assessor’s Office last year reassessed all properties in the suburbs south of North Avenue. It also adjusted the values of many properties in the rest of the county, citing the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on property values.”
As a result, in much of Cook County, “the total value of residential properties decreased more than those of commercial properties. In each case, that results in commercial property owners picking up a bigger portion of the overall tax burden.”
But Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi, an Oak Park resident, has said that his office’s attempts to offload the burden of property taxes from residents to commercial owners and correct “a rigged system that puts favoritism above fairness” have been complicated by the lack of information from commercial property owners.
Kaegi has explained that without accurate income and expense data from commercial property owners, his office has a hard time establishing objective property tax valuations and staving off the influence of the Cook County Board of Review, the powerful body responsible for conducting appeals.
And multiple attempts by Kaegi to persuade Springfield to pass a data modernization bill that would provide this missing data have failed.
Pappas urged property owners to go to the treasurer’s website and check if they qualify for tax refunds and are eligible for exemptions, which may lower their tax bills.
In a statement, the treasurer’s office said in order to search for exemptions, residents should visit cookcountytreasurer.com and select the purple box labeled “Your Property Tax Overview,” search by property address or the Property Index Number (PIN) and look for the results under “Are There Any Overpayments On Your PIN?” or results under “Have You Received Your Exemptions In These Tax Years?”