Let's have an honest conversation about property taxes

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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In her Feb. 19 One View, "Oak Park's Urgency: Reining in Excessive Taxation," village trustee candidate Bridgett Baron makes the argument that Oak Park's high property taxes keep Oak Park's housing values low. To bolster her argument, she included a chart to show that since 2005, the tax levy has risen by nearly 70 percent while home values are up by only 2.6 percent. 

Would you be surprised to learn that, in fact, since 2012 property tax rates are up by only 5 percent while property values are up by almost 30 percent? I've provided a chart so you can see for yourself. 

Both charts are "true," yet both fail to illustrate the whole picture. It is certainly true that for someone who purchased a home in Oak Park at almost the top of the housing bubble, Ms. Baron's chart might roughly show the relationship between the value of their house and the village's total tax levy. It is just as true that my chart roughly shows the relationship between home values and tax rates for someone who bought their home in 2012. 

So what do these charts tell us about property taxes in Oak Park? Mostly, it tells us that charts like these are not a good way to look at them. 

No simple visualization can adequately show the complex relationship between housing values, assessed taxes, and municipal spending. But no matter how you look at it, our property taxes are high, and appear poised to rise higher, perhaps unsustainably so. 

An honest discussion about how to solve this issue can only occur if we use an honest approach to evaluate our tax burden, how that burden is distributed, and whether Oak Park's spending plans align with its economy and its values. 

To Ms. Baron and all candidates for office with the village and other local taxing bodies, I urge you: Don't try to dumb it down for us; we're not dummies. 

Jason Rothstein

Oak Park

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Reader Comments

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Josh Vanderberg  

Posted: March 5th, 2019 2:59 PM

The chart is incorrect. In 2012, the total Village, Township, Library, PD, and School levy was $152 million, in 2017 it was $180 million - an increase of over 18%. This was data pulled directly from the cook county tax data website. So while Bridgett's chart was true, yours appears not to be. It appears that you may be using the tax rates, which are really immaterial, as they can change radically based on the equalizer. You have to look at the total tax levied, each one of us pays a relatively fixed percentage of that each year. The total levy is going up an average of 4.7% a year since 1999, which gives a doubling time of 15 years. What about inflation you might ask? Even adjusting for inflation, the trend is troubling, as even in real dollars the levy is doubling every 30 years. Each generation will find itself paying twice as much as the last for property taxes.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: March 5th, 2019 1:25 PM

Yes Mr. Rothstein, I would be very surprised if property values went up 30% since 2012. Your mileage may vary I guess, big time. And honestly, there is also no comparing rapidly rising property taxes you have to pay right this moment as being somehow the same thing as having to go through the process to sell your home, pay commissions and taxes on the sale, pay to move and have to buy something else with the money anyway. Your happy talk about taxes makes zero sense. What is clear is a 5% a year increase turns a $12,500 tax bill into over $20,000 in just ten years, and to $30,000 in just 18 years. So we really need people around who are trying to hold the line on spending. Ms Baron's honesty is clear.

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