Illinois property taxes based on government debt make Chicago renters rethinking buying a house

Illinois property taxes based on government debt make Chicago renters rethinking buying a house


COOK COUNTY, Ill. (WLS) — Following an I-Team report about the property tax debt attached to your home and business, some people said they stopped their search to buy a home.

RELATED: IL property tax hikes influenced by government debt; how to look up debt on your home

“Definitely preventing me from buying right now that’s why I’m renting and happy to do so,” said Chicago renter Drew Schafer.

Schafer said he’s now holding off on buying a condo because of outstanding debt attached to properties.

The I-Team looked up the debt associated with Chicagoan Tom Harney’s home. It’s $124,000.

“When I look at that number coupled with my income tax, I ask myself why am I staying here and not going to a state that’s focused on keeping its people and growing. I don’t see politicians changing anything,” said Harney.

He can see that information because Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas launched a new tool on her website to view the government debt attached to homes and businesses.

“The higher the debt, the higher the property taxes,” Pappas told the I-Team. That debt is due to estimated payments on village services, education and pensions.

Laurence Msall, President of the nonpartisan The Civic Federation, said government modernization is needed.

“We need local officials to look at how they deliver government services, not historically how they’ve done it, not according to political boundaries,” he said.

Msall is referring to the 2,200 overlapping government entities in Cook County, which he said are inefficient.

Chicago residents were surprised that the treasurer’s numbers show that in the Windy City, there’s about $41,000 of debt attached to every $100,00 in property.

“That’s crazy. If I want to own a home, it kind of discourages,” said Chicago resident Keisha Samuels.

“It’s a lot but it’s the tradeoff you have to live in the city,” said Chicago homeowner Jon Ezenstark.

The I-Team asked Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle for a comment on the debt associated with property owners in Cook County.

Pappas said she’s “worked to address the county’s own debt” and “unfunded pensions” that she inherited, and is trying to “reduce the county’s portion of the debt and has not increased property tax levy in during her 10 years in office.”

So what can you do about the property tax debt? Besides voting you should ask candidates specifically what they plan on doing about the problem if they win.

Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle’s Full Statement:

“Over the past 10 years, President Preckwinkle’s administration has worked to address this very issue by judiciously managing the County’s own debt including the billions in legacy debt borrowed before she took office while also responsibly addressing billions of dollars in unfunded pensions. In short, she has been working to reduce the County’s portion of the ‘Total Taxing District Debt Attributed to Properties in Cook County’ all while not increasing the County’s property tax levy since taking office. Additionally, the county has been doing its part to provide relief to tax-burden communities by equitably distributing tax incentives and exemptions to those who need it most. This problem did not occur overnight, and it will not be solved overnight. It will take a collaborative effort between all units of local government along with the State and Cook County is ready and willing to help take up the charge.”


We agree with Treasurer Pappas and your reporting that Cook County’s property tax system is broken, and it puts too heavy a burden on homeowners. But it’s important that we understand how we got here so we can find the right solutions and not just point fingers and look for someone to blame. I have been mayor of the Village of Riverdale since 2013, and I see every day just how complex this problem is and how it will take real reform to address it:

We need municipal leaders to take a proactive role to address the issue. In Riverdale, we’re making hard decisions to refinance our debt to save taxpayer money. We’re working to cut operational expenses and find new grants and other ways to pay for much-needed capital projects that we would have borrowed to pay for in the past. And we are working every day to find new business partners to broaden our local tax base, and generate new economic development.

We need legislative action in Springfield to fix the property tax system in the county. We can’t continue to pick winners and losers in property tax assessments – communities like ours always end up on the losing end.

We have to reform how we fund our schools. A big portion of our local property tax bill is what it takes to fund our schools. We can’t continue that system.

We have to make hard decisions to reduce local pension costs and consolidate local government units. We have to do more with less.

We have to work together on solutions. Property taxes are considered owed to Cook County, not municipalities like Riverdale. We have more than $6 million in active businesses who owe delinquent property taxes to the Village, forcing us to provide our essential services and ask other businesses and residents to pay for it. We need the Cook County Treasurer and State’s Attorney to actively pursue these delinquent cases and help us get these funds we are owed, or we’ll have to pursue legislation to do it ourselves.


We have not issued new debt since 2011, two years before my administration began. I have made it a priority to manage expenses while expanding our local revenue base with alternative funding resources. But I only have so many options. We need to have serious discussion and action at all levels of government to help address these fundamental, structural and long-running issues. These problems exist across the state, and seem to be worst in Cook County. We can’t just talk about them anymore. We need action. I am happy the Treasurer has created this tool and is working with your station to shine a light on these issues. But my challenge now is: where do we go from here? I hope we can work together to actually help communities like Riverdale and benefit all Cook County residents and businesses.

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