Orland Park and Orland Hills residents will have state politicians to blame next week when a larger-than-expected tax bill hits their mailbox.
This year, by increasing the multiplier, or "equalizer," in the equation that determines Cook County tax bills, the state has completely off-set the efforts of local taxing bodies to reduce the tax rate and of county assessors to reduce assessed property values collectively.
Many property owners will actually pay more in taxes, while the lucky ones will pay what they did last year, said Rich Kelly, Orland Township assessor.
"It's frustrating when everyone's trying to do their part to keep things…low because of…the economy," he said. "And then the state steps in and says, 'You're too low. We're gonna raise it up.'"
Cook has a different tax assessment system than the other 101 counties in the state that values property at a lower amount, Kelly said. To bring those assessments up, the state adds a multiplier to every Cook tax bill. That multiplier was increased this year from 2.9786 to 3.3701.
Kelly predicted another rise in tax appeals and cited them with delaying this year's bills.
"Last year they had 280,000 appeals and now this year they had 430,000," he said. "This swamps the Board of Review. They don't have the man-power to take on that kind of load."
In Orland Park, the property tax levy, as determined by the village, fell by 4.18 percent. So did the levies of Orland School District 135 and Community Consolidated School District 146, which dropped 1.41 percent and 1.89 percent, respectively. The Orland Fire Protection District saw a 1.65 reduction, while the Orland Library levy came down about one percent.
"Nothing remarkable there," said Bill Vaselopulos, director of the Clerk's Office Tax Extension Department. "It's a minor reduction."
However, the change in Orland Hills' levy was anything but minor. It fell 65 percent because of the retiring of several bond issues in the last year, Vaselopulos said. The village owed $750,000 in debt in 2008 and nothing in 2009, causing a significant tax reduction.
Also in Orland Hills, the levies for District 135 and Kirby School District 140 fell by 8.25 percent and 7.69, respectively, while the Orland Hills Public Library District dropped 2.75 percent.
"It could all be off-set due to the state equalizer," Kelly said. "We've got people a nice reduction in their assessment and they're assuming they're going to get a nice reduction in their taxes, which usually follows suit. But what's happening now, because the equalizer is going up, their taxes are still going up."
The median property value of homes sold in Orland Park increased about $10,000 in the last year, but fell 16 percent in the last three years, according to the public record of deed transfers between June and August. A piece of property in Orland Hills sold for $186,000 on average this summer and $253,500 in the summer of 2005—almost a 27 percent drop in five years.
"The value of the property doesn't matter," Kelly said. "It depends on how much money everyone is asking for…and then it depends on state equalizers."
The delivery of tax bills completes a process that started last December when each local taxing district, as required by law, filed its levy with the Clerk's office based on the amount of money they need to fund another year of operations.
According to a release from the Cook County Clerk's Office on Monday, tax rates are calculated by using the amount of dollars levied by the taxing agency and the value of all taxable property located within its boundaries, with exemptions that vary depending on the year and part of Cook one lives in.
During years of enormous property value growth, tax rates were slow to adjust "because taxing districts are not permitted to increase their levy to meet increases in property values," Vaselopulos said. "Only recently we've seen rates go down."
Tax bills are usually late, but this is the latest they've ever gone out in Cook. The bills must be paid by Dec. 13, in time for the Holidays, and seven weeks before the next bills are scheduled to go out. However, the county is not expected to send the next bills out until April, to give homeowners a little relief between payments.
But when those local taxing bodies will receive their tax money is still unknown. Some school district administrators say they probably won't see a dime until February, which would only force their hand deeper into reserve funds.