Illinois property tax hikes influenced by government debt; Cook County Treasurer releases tool to look up debt on your property

Illinois property tax hikes influenced by government debt; Cook County Treasurer releases tool to look up debt on your property


COOK COUNTY, Ill. (WLS) — Government debt can be tied to the costs associated with your own individual home or business, and can be behind rising property taxes.

While most politicians don’t want to talk about this touchy subject, Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas isn’t so shy. Her office has developed a new tool to calculate the debt attached to your property.

Illinois has the second highest property taxes in the nation, according to some national tax studies reported by Bloomberg and Wallethub.

Much of that money goes to education and government pensions.

“I believe it’s very, very unfair,” said Riverdale homeowner Jon Agewoye. He was surprised to hear there is roughly $50,000 of government debt is tied to his property.

“It makes homeownership near impossible for some of us because you never get out of the debt,” he said.

Countywide, the debt expense comes from 2,200 government entities in Cook County, ranging from cities and townships to school and park districts. Debt, including unfunded pensions and loans, eventually lands on the doorstep of every homeowner in the form of property tax hikes.

“I think the city and this county needs a wake-up call. And I think that we’re not paying as much attention to the finances,” Pappas said.

Property taxes pay for services you receive like street lights, water, libraries and public safety. In Cook County, a large portion goes toward paying off past services and salaries through government bonds, loans and unfunded pensions.

“This is a call to action, if you want something to happen you have to register and vote and exercise your right to who is making decisions for you,” Pappas said.

On Tuesday, Pappas is launching a search tool so all property owners in Cook County can see how much government debt is tied to their property.

“If you want something to happen you have to register and vote and exercise your right to who is making decisions for you,” she said.

Laurence Msall, President of the non-partisan group The Civic Federation, agreed.

“People need to be calling state senators and state representatives. They also need to be talking to their elected school board members and their elected municipal leaders and their mayor to say, ‘Do we know what is the plan? What are we doing to address this?'” he said.

The ABC 7 I-Team analyzed the Cook County Treasurer’s data. Of the 20 villages or cities with the lowest debt to property value, only one is a minority community. More than half of the 20 cities or villages with the highest debt to property value are minority communities.

“They are high because there are fewer people there, and more people having to pick up the burden,” Pappas said.

There may also be fewer businesses in those communities paying taxes and more vacant homes not contributing.

“This identifies just how hard it is to be a property taxpayer in a community that where there isn’t a lot of demand for your house, so you couldn’t move or sell or even giveaway in some cases, the property, because of the overhanging liabilities of property taxes and unfunded pensions,” said Msall.

Those liabilities won’t come to homeowners in a single bill. They will come in the form of tax increases over time.

Homeowners like Agewoye, in the village of Riverdale, have the second highest debt ratio in the study. They owe $46,000 for every $100,000 of property. Pappas said they could pay as much in taxes as they paid for their homes over a 17-year period.

“I would like to see somebody find a solution to this. How? I don’t know,” said Agewoye.

The city of Chicago also carries huge debt and unfunded pensions. The treasurer’s study shows that there is about $41,000 of debt attached to every $100,000 in property value.

“There needs to be something done about the high property taxes system, or going to have this continued exit from Illinois, this continued exit from the city, this continued exit from the suburbs,” Pappas said.

Click here to see the Treasurer’s new online tool and look up the tax burden on Cook County properties. This new feature cannot only be used by current property owners, but prospective buyers who may want to look up a property’s debt.

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