Practices and procedure audit of the Cook County Assessor's Office conducted by the IAAO - May 2019
Where is the Truth in our Taxation?
<div class="body"><p>Every year the bloat in property taxes gets worse and every year residents are left wondering where the increases came from and what they can do about it. In a simplified explanation, property tax rates are derived from taking all the approved budgetary requests from the local taxing bodies and dividing that number by the total taxable amount of real property in that given district.</p><p>Illinois has roughly 7,000 units of local government with taxing authority - more than every other state in the nation. Many of these units of government tend to overlap the benefits they provide taxpayers. The result has been that residents are paying two departments to do the job of one, which drastically inflates the tax burden Illinois residents share. There are between 7 and 20 different taxing bodies that levy taxes on a given property each year, the highest burden usually coming from school districts, fire departments, and water services.</p><p>As a taxpayer, you have the right to know who is taxing you as well as the right to know about the spending and debt of those taxing bodies. The County requires that all primary local governments across Cook County report their financial data yearly to the Treasurer’s Office to comply with the Debt Disclosure Ordinance (DDO). Taxpayers can find that information on the Cook County Treasurer’s website,?cookcountytreasurer.com, in a section called, “Want to see your local government debt?” Taxpayers may also find this information on the first installment of their property tax bill, in a section called “Taxing District Debt and Financial Data.” And while this information is helpful to understand how your property taxes are being allocated to the various local taxing bodies, it doesn’t afford citizens the opportunity to intervene and ask questions. To that end, property owners must get involved before budgets are approved.</p><p>The taxing bodies that request funding from property taxes are supposed to be transparent. In Illinois, budgets are due the third week of December. If the amount that any given taxing body requests has increased by more than 5% from the previous year, state law requires that a public hearing be held. In Illinois, this is called the “Truth in Taxation” law. These hearings are meant to allow citizens the opportunity to ask questions about the proposed increase.</p><p>However, it’s not surprising that few homeowners are aware that these hearings exist to challenge the increases that result in our unreasonable tax burden. By state law, the public must be given notice regarding the date, time and place of these hearings. The notice must be given neither more than 2 weeks nor less than 1 week prior to the hearing. While social media and the Internet are the most efficient ways to inform citizens of any news, state law requirements have not kept up with the times.</p><p>So why are homeowners still largely in the dark about these supposedly public hearings? Public notices for a levy increase technically comply with state law if they have been posted in local newspapers, even though these print media have incredibly limited circulation and dwindling readership. It’s a great example of one of many antiquated procedures that leave taxpayers uninformed and allow an unreasonable tax burden to go unchallenged.</p><p>Furthermore, many taxing bodies get away with increases each year without having to explain and defend them to the residents they will affect. How so? By keeping their requests just under the state law’s 5% threshold for requiring a Truth in Taxation public hearing. These taxing bodies “game the system,” resulting in Illinois residential property taxes growing 3.3 times faster than median household incomes.</p><p>The unchallenged budgets and lack of responsible government spending oversight by public representatives have led to the unreasonable property tax burden on homeowners. Unfortunately, once the budget is approved and the levy is set for the community, a taxpayer’s only remaining course of action is to jockey for position by shifting their individual tax burden to their neighbors in the never-ending game of property tax appeals.</p><p>Sample Taxpayer In The Village Of Niles</p><p>The above chart illustrates the percentage breakdown of where property tax revenue is spent in our communities. The average Cook County property owner pays taxes to approximately 7 to 15 local units of government. The largest share of property tax dollars goes to school districts.</p></div>