AP NEWS

Bigger tax burden in poor towns

May 12, 2019

When it comes to property taxes, residents in poorer towns in Kankakee County are hardest hit.

Compared to other communities, homeowners in Kankakee and Hopkins Park fork out a bigger portion of their incomes on property taxes, according to a Daily Journal analysis.

The median household incomes in Kankakee and Hopkins Park are $35,600 and $16,600, respectively, according to the U.S. Census.

In Kankakee, the property tax bill for a median-priced home is $4,515. That is 12.7 percent of the median income, the highest rate among towns in the county.

The tax bill for a median-priced home in Hopkins Park, which is in eastern Kankakee County’s Pembroke Township, is $2,017. That constitutes 12.1 percent of the median income, the second highest rate.

Limestone, by contrast, has the lowest tax bill when compared to income — 5.9 percent. Among the county’s towns, its median household income is the highest at $78,000, which is five times Hopkins Park’s.

Other towns in the county, including Bradley and Bourbonnais, range from 6 to 8 percent in how much of their income goes to property taxes.

Manteno is on the high side, though. The tax bill for a median-priced home in the village is $6,379. That makes up 10.4 percent of its median household income of $61,500. That rate is third highest in the county.

In an interview, Manteno Mayor Tim Nugent said residents some years ago approved a property tax increase in the local school district. Like most places, Manteno’s school district takes up the biggest part of property tax bills.

“They wanted to make sure the schools had adequate supplies, equipment and teachers,” Nugent said. “It’s no mystery our taxes are right up there. Our amenities that we provide are right up there, too. You pay for quality.”

Despite the taxes, development has continued apace, the mayor said.

“The rates have not stopped people from moving here,” the mayor said. “We continue to sell homes and build some new homes.”

Hopkins Park Mayor Mark Hodge said the best way to reduce the tax burden on residents is bringing businesses into the community, so they can generate more tax revenue.

Another way to look at the impact of property taxes is the effective tax rate, which divides a tax bill into a home’s value.

Here again, taxpayers in Kankakee and Hopkins Park suffer the greatest hit. Their effective rates are at 5.3 percent and 3.9 percent, respectively. St. Anne, the town with the third lowest median household income, is 3.6 percent, the same rate as Manteno.

Limestone, with the highest median income, has the lowest effective tax rate at 2.9 percent, the same rate as Bourbonnais and Momence.

KANKAKEE TAX CUT

While some see property taxes as perpetually rising, that’s not always the case.

Kankakee residents should see a drop in their property tax bills. That was a result of the city’s promise to cut property taxes in exchange for a sales tax hike last year.

The overall Kankakee property tax bill for a median-priced house dropped to $4,515 this year, down from $5,282 in 2018. That’s a 15 percent decrease.

The city portion alone fell to $1,731, from $2,460, or 30 percent, although reassessed properties may see a different result. (The median home in Kankakee dropped in value, according to the U.S. Census, which accounts for a small part of the decrease.)

The city’s property tax cut was made possible by a 2-percentage-point increase in the sales tax last summer. The goal of this hike was to shift the police and fire pension burden to sales taxpayers, from real property owners.

For years, Kankakee was unusual in that the city, not the school district, collected the biggest share of property tax bills. With the city tax cut, the district has returned as the biggest collector of property taxes.

In 2018, the city consumed nearly half the property tax bill, with the schools taking slightly more than a third. This year, the schools will collect 40 percent, compared to the city’s 38 percent.

Ald. Chris Curtis, R-6, said experts in real estate are shocked with Kankakee’s taxes because they have never seen a public body anywhere in the state that takes more in property taxes than the schools.

Many homes in Kankakee, he said, have such low values that homeowners are not paying any taxes because of the homestead and other tax exemptions. He suggested a minimum property tax of, say, $100 or $200 for homeowners who are not paying any taxes.

“They still get their streets plowed. They still get fire service. I’m all for lower property taxes, but there should be a minimum for services. I’m not sure what that number should be,” Curtis said.

Curtis, who spearheaded the sales tax proposal, said it was good because out-of-town-shoppers are picking up some of the slack.

“What I like about the sales tax is that people can determine how much they spend,” he said. “We did accomplish in our first year significant property tax reduction. We hope to do more going forward. If we can continue to reduce property taxes, we can increase property values.”

‘REGRESSIVE’ TAXES

Kankakee County is not unusual in that residents in poorer towns pay more of their income in property taxes, said Carol Portman, executive director of the Taxpayers Federation of Illinois.

“Some of the poorest communities have some of the highest effective tax rates,” Portman said. “They don’t have a big burgeoning commercial base to carry a lot of the cost of local government. So there is less wealth to spread across the costs of government services. Every community has to have paved roads and police officers.”

Illinois tends to be more regressive in its tax structure, meaning that low-income residents pay a bigger share of their income in taxes, she said.

“Sales and property taxes are inherently regressive. If you don’t make much money, what you have is going to go toward what you need to live,” said Portman, whose group bills itself as nonpartisan.

Now, Illinois legislators are considering replacing the state’s flat income tax with a progressive tax, which would increase rates along with income.

“Our state has an overall regressive tax burden, which is one of the arguments people are making for the progressive income tax,” Portman said. “There are arguments to the contrary, including that the federal income tax is progressive.”