CHICAGO – Longtime Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas is shocked to see the numbers of two decades’ worth of data in what she calls the Pappas Report, one that catalogues the sheer rise in property taxes in Cook County and the City of Chicago. “It’s pretty damning,” she said in an interview with The National Herald.
The report, which Pappas’ office has been working on since the beginning of the pandemic in March of this year, reveals that total taxes billed in Cook County have nearly doubled over 20 years, increasing by 99 percent. Total property taxes billed in tax year 2019 (due in 2020) were $15.58 billion compared with $7.85 billion in tax year 2000 (due in 2001).
“You’d have to be asleep not to be astounded by these increases, especially in the Chicago wards where things have gone up 400 and 500 percent, and some of the suburbs that have gone up 200 percent … it’s outrageous,” Pappas said.
In comparison, since 2000, the cost of living in the area has gone up about 36 percent and wages up almost 57 percent, meanwhile in suburban Cook County, residential and commercial property taxes have gone up 87 percent on average, and in the City of Chicago, up 115 percent on average, jumping from $3.25 billion to $6.99 billion, the report states.
Broken down, residential property taxes billed in the City of Chicago have skyrocketed 164 percent over 20 years, up to $3.51 billion from $1.33 billion, while commercial property taxes billed during the same time in Chicago have risen 81 percent, from $1.92 billion to $3.48 billion.
Residential property taxes billed in Suburban Cook County jumped 116 percent over 20 years, from $2.45 billion to $5.29 billion, while suburban commercial property taxes billed during the same period have risen 53 percent, from $2.15 billion to $3.30 billion.
No local government office hears daily tales of financial woe more than the Cook County Treasurer’s Office, where taxpayers, especially seniors, pour out their hearts to staff along with their list of unpaid bills for property taxes, utilities, and medical care, the report states. In addition to the numbers the report reveals, for the first time ever, Pappas and her team have created and released a new tool on cookcountytreasurer.com, through which property owners can review the 20-year history in their property taxes.
Pappas warns that the steep increases in taxation are driving property owners out of the area. “People are fed up and they are going to move out. They’re going to leave. They’re done,” she said. She hopes the Pappas Report will help spread awareness and curb future hikes. “The jury is out, they are talking about it, so maybe this report will slow them down a bit,” she said.
A source of funding for local government agencies including elementary and high school districts, community colleges, villages, townships, counties, public libraries, water reclamation districts, and even mosquito abatement districts, it’s no wonder Illinois property taxes are some of the highest in the nation (2.31% in 2020) – coming in second after New Jersey for three consecutive years.
“Property taxes are driven by the amount of money, or levy, that each of the 2,200 local government areas request,” Pappas explained. “So if that request increases, then the taxes increase and it gets divided up between how many people are in the area.”
Pappas is calling on local government entities to control spending, citing a lack of voter turnout as a factor that allows for property tax spikes. “Each of these entities has to get government spending under control, but if you have elections where 75 percent of the people don’t register and come out and vote, and only 25 percent of the people are determining what happens, you’ve got a problem,” Pappas said.
Cook County has 82 home rule taxing districts which do not need to obtain voter approval to increase property taxes. The home rule applies only to cities and villages that either have populations of more than 25,000 or whose voters elect home rule powers via referendum. As for the 476 non-home rule taxing districts, property taxes are capped by law unless voters approve otherwise.
“When non-home rule entities vote, if there are 25,000 people there and they are passing a $45 million bond deal and only 2,300 people vote in favor of it because only 4,000 of the 25,000 people voted, and it passes, then nobody can complain about the $45 million deal going through because nobody got up and voted, and there are examples of that in the study,” she said.
With homeowners and business owners in Cook County already overburdened by property tax hikes, the pandemic has escalated matters in what Pappas views as a crisis. To combat more unbearable tax increases, the Cook County Treasurer is urging property owners to take matters into their own hands by voting.
“Anger is a bigger issue than awareness,” she said. “People have to be angry that you’re coming after their pocket books,” Pappas said. “Hopefully this report will put some fire under people to get out to the ballot box.”
View the full Pappas Report here: