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Property tax bills expected to rise again in county as schools bump levies

Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Sandy Bressner – sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Public schools make up a large portion of property tax bills.

Later this spring, thousands of homeowners in Kane County will renew a time-honored – and, for most, dreaded – rite of the season: Opening their property tax bills.

While county officials have yet to finish computing the bills, most local taxpayers should expect increases this year ranging from a few dozen dollars to several hundred dollars more, depending on where they live.

And such increases should continue a yearslong trend of larger property tax payments for most living in the Tri-Cities and elsewhere.

From 2007 to 2012, money collected in property taxes by Kane County on behalf of school districts, cities, park districts, fire protection districts and dozens of other local taxing bodies has increased about 24 percent, rising over those five years from $948 million to $1.17 billion, according to data provided by the Kane County Treasurer’s Office.

In years before 2007, the property tax burden also increased in Kane County. But much of that increase was fueled by years of economic growth, allowing local governments to spread the burden over an increasing number of new property taxpayers whose property also was increasing in value.

In recent years, that trend has reversed itself because the onset of the Great Recession produced years of declining housing values.

Last year, the equalized assessed value of property within the county fell to about $12.8 billion. That represented a 19 percent decline in Kane County’s property value since 2008.

And that decline in property value, coupled with a continued escalation in property tax levies overall, has resulted in larger tax bills for most residents of Kane County.

In local townships, tax bills jumped about 20 to 27 percent, rising to as much as $8,700 on a $300,000 home.

That rising burden has helped Kane County maintain a dubious distinction nationwide as one of the counties with the highest local tax burdens.

According to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, in 2010, Kane County ranked No. 30 among counties for the median property tax paid on homes; No. 32 in taxes paid as a percentage of home value; and No. 26 among counties in the category of property taxes paid as a percentage of median household income. The report indicated that in 2010, Kane County homeowners paid about $5,500 in property taxes to local governments, accounting for about 2.3 percent of their homes’ values and about 7 percent of their annual income.

Such trends resulted in changes at units of local government: Elections brought in new officials or pressure from voters built. Some cut costs. Some, such as Kane County and other cities, froze their tax levies.

But cities and counties account for about 15 percent of a typical property tax bill, dwarfed by school districts, which claim about two-thirds of property taxes paid in Kane County.

And those districts have increased their levies.

According to data provided by the Kane County Clerk’s office, the Tri-Cities school districts – Geneva District 304, St. Charles District 303 and Batavia District 101 – and Kaneland District 302 have grown their levies by 12 to 17 percent, depending on the district, since 2007.

And those increases in the school districts’ tax levies, coupled with declining property values, have translated to big jumps in homeowners’ tax bills because tax rates in the districts increased even more sharply than the levies, rising by about 23 percent in the past five years.

In fall, local school districts again increased their levies. For some – such as District 304, which opted for a 1.5 percent levy bump – the increase will be less than in past years and will be half of the increase the district was allowed under state tax cap law to claim this year.

But Donna Oberg, District 304’s assistant superintendent for business, said the district is estimating the increase still would translate into a $150 bump in the tax bill for the owner of a $300,000 home.

She said District 304 has controlled its operational spending in recent years because teachers have agreed to a pay freeze. The district has applied those savings to debt generated in previous years, mitigating the need for larger levy increases.

But Oberg said the district still must pay more for employee benefits this year because health insurance costs have continued to rise.

District 101’s levy increase will cost taxpayers a bit more, edging bills higher by about $33 a home.

But in District 303 and District 302, levy increases of more than 3 percent could shoot bills higher by hundreds of dollars this summer.

Steve Spurling, president of the District 303 Board of Education, said the demands of debt service also have driven levy increases in his district.

Spurling, who has served on the school board since 2009, said increasing property taxes is among the most difficult things board members must do.

“It’s not just raising taxes on my neighbors,” Spurling said. “It’s raising taxes on me, too.

“Taxes in this state are criminal already, so anything we can do to lessen it, we’re trying. But unfortunately, that debt is there.”

However, the increasing tax burden has begun to draw the attention and ire of taxpayers who say, in years past, they would have paid their tax bills without too much grumbling.

Rich Phillips, a retired former government worker of Geneva, said his tax bill has increased almost every year since he relocated to Geneva from Colorado Springs more than a decade ago.

He said he believes the increasing tax bills are compelling people like him to move to places where the tax burden is lower.

To date, Phillips said the desire to be near family is keeping him in Geneva. But he questioned why local governments – and school districts, in particular – have not yet actively considered policies to ensure that retirees and other “low-impact taxpayers” – meaning those who contribute more in taxes than they cost in services – can afford to continue to stay in the region.

“My taxes now are double what they were in Colorado,” Phillips said. “My house is smaller now, and I see no appreciable difference on the services I receive now, versus what I got in Colorado.

“So how much longer will we be willing to keep paying this? That’s the question.”

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