The second installment tax bills that arrived in late August are the first to reflect the 2020 reassessment of Oak Park properties. Combined, these tax bills seek a total of $230 million from Oak Park properties, an amount 3.2% higher than last year. Because of the reassessment, however, the tax changes for most individual property owners do not match the increase in tax bills for the community as a whole.
When property values are reassessed, each property’s share of the community tax burden changes, with some properties seeing dramatic tax increases, others experiencing moderate tax growth, and some getting tax reductions. The variations in tax bills associated with the 2020 reassessment are noteworthy because they shifted the tax burden between business and residential properties.
This year, the combined tax bill for Oak Park’s residential properties — single-family homes, condominiums and two- to six-flats — fell by about 1%. This decline was offset by increases in business taxes, with large apartment buildings (properties with seven units or more) paying 47% more compared to last year, and commercial buildings paying 5% more. The changes from all sectors of the tax base add up to Oak Park’s overall tax increase of 3.2%.
Why did the taxes on large apartment buildings increase by 47%? There are two main reasons for this: First, the assessed values on existing large apartment buildings increased significantly, resulting in a median tax increase of 26%. The big assessment increases are the result of an effort to comply with a county ordinance requiring large apartment buildings to be assessed at 10% of market value. Over the last several years, the Illinois Department of Revenue’s annual comparisons of sale prices to assessed values indicated that large apartment buildings were being assessed at about 7% of market value.
The remaining increase in apartment taxes comes from several new apartment buildings that came onto the tax rolls in 2020, including two large buildings in downtown Oak Park — the Albion building at Lake and Forest and the Eleven33 building at South Boulevard and Harlem. County records indicate that the new apartment buildings were not fully occupied in 2020, but even at partial occupancy they generated more than $2 million in new property tax revenue for the community.
Why did the taxes on residential properties fall by 1%? The decline in taxes on residential properties occurred because the assessed values of Oak Park’s residential properties did not rise as fast as the assessed values of business properties. This resulted in an increase in the business share of Oak Park’s tax burden and a corresponding decline in the residential share.
Did all homes, condominiums and small apartment buildings experience 1% tax reductions? No. Although taxes declined on residential properties as a group, there is wide variation within the group. A majority of residential properties had tax reductions, but about one in five experienced double-digit tax increases, and around 8% had tax increases greater than 25%.
Will the decline in the residential share of the tax burden be permanent? Although no one can predict the future, the property tax system’s response to the pandemic provides reason to believe that at least part of the shift in the tax burden may be temporary. When Oak Park’s new assessed values were issued in February of 2020, efforts were made to ensure that they accurately reflected market values. When the pandemic hit, however, it was assumed that residential property values would fall, and the original assessed values were reduced by 8-12%.
But most of the anticipated declines in market value did not materialize. If the housing market remains strong when the pandemic-related adjustments disappear at Oak Park’s next reassessment in 2023, large increases in residential assessments may be needed to accurately reflect the market. This could result in an increase in the residential share of the tax burden.
Why did Oak Park’s tax levies increase by 3.2%? The tax cap law limits most governing bodies to inflation-level tax increases on existing properties but allows for additional revenue from new properties. Among the Oak Park districts, School District 97’s increase of 3.4% is the maximum allowable under the tax cap law. OPRF High School, the park district and village government all had levy increases of 3% or less, and the library’s levy fell by 8.5%. Oak Park Township anticipated that its increase would be capped at 3.4%, but an unexpected interpretation of the tax cap law generated $73,000 in additional revenue, resulting in a 4.8% tax increase. The township will make up for this year’s excess by seeking $73,000 less than the tax cap allows next year.
Can I do anything to reduce my current tax bill? If you are eligible for a homeowner, senior citizen or disability exemption but did not receive one, the Township Assessor’s Office can assist you in obtaining a revised bill for a smaller amount. If you have received all exemptions for which you are eligible, however, you likely will not be able to do anything about your current bill.
Can I do anything to reduce future tax bills? Oak Park taxpayers will soon have an opportunity to file appeals with the Cook County Board of Review, which will impact next year’s taxes if the appeals are successful. When appeal dates are announced, residents may call Oak Park Township for help preparing appeals.
Ali ElSaffar is the Oak Park Township assessor.