Letter: How to Know if Your Property Taxes Are Going Up or Down
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One of the biggest problems in our area is that few people understand the difference between the levy and the rate and who raises or lowers their property tax.
- Property taxes are raised or lowered by elected board members/trustees of local taxing bodies such as the county board, village board, school boards, fire boards, park boards, etc.
- The most significant recourse taxpayers have is in electing board members that reflect what they want. County board members are elected in the even year November General election. The rest of local board members and trustees are elected in the odd year local election. So accordingly, about 80% of the people that decide on your property taxes are elected in the local election. This is why it is so important to be informed and vote in that local election.
- Each taxing body (board) votes on their levy amount. This is the total amount of money that will be collected for that taxing body. THEY DO NOT RAISE OR LOWER THE RATE. The rate is only calculated as a function of the total of levies, divided by the total assessed amount.
FALSE: Assuming no taxing body raised their levy—because my property value went down, shouldn’t my property tax go down? ANS: No.
If everyone’s property values go down, such as in the recent recession, and the levy amount from the taxing bodies stays the same as last year, you will still pay the same property tax amount as last year. Why? The total amount of tax money that the taxing bodies will collect (the total pie), is still the same as last year. It doesn’t matter if your property value went down, because if everyone’s went down proportionally, we all still have to pay for that same pie.
What is the purpose of assessments then? The purpose is to determine how much of the total pie you pay versus your neighbor. If both of your assessments went up or down by the same proportion, you will still pay the same portion of the pie. If on the other hand, you did improvements to your property and increased its assessed value disproportionate to your neighbor, then you will pay a bigger portion of the pie.
Taxpayers should not look at the rate , but rather look at whether taxing bodies raised their levy. This is what directly affects the total property tax dollars you pay. It bears repeating: The board members/trustees decide on the TOTAL LEVY, not the rate. Rate is just a percentage calculated from your portion of the total levy pie divided by total assessments. The best indicator is to look at the total dollars you are paying this year versus last year, and if it differs, ask why. Who raised their levy? How did my assessment change and why? How did the total assessment change and why?
Here’s the real problem: Rarely does the size of the tax levy pie stay the same from one year to the next. Many taxing bodies continue to increase. The Will County Board fortunately, has not raised its levy for 3 years. The Village of Plainfield has not raised its levy for 4 years. That’s very good when so many other boards have continued to raise their levy despite the recession and hard economic times.
Reducing the levies would be better for property owners in tough economic times. Unfortunately once the easy budget cuts are done at first, then you have to start asking what services are you willing to do without? Those are the tough choices that will quickly make trustees unpopular with one group or another. We need board members willing to take that heat. Unfortunately, it’s much easier to tax more and spend more to make one group or another happy, especially when so few residents understand how raising levies directly affects them.
Once you understand what I’ve explained above, it should be clear why it is so important to vote in the local election, and to be informed enough to know which candidates are going to rein in spending and not continually increase levies as many boards in the county do.
I’m a watchdog for the JJC board, and have watched that board continue to increase spending and their tax levy throughout the recession. Few even realize that the JJC board passed a 16.8 percent LEVY INCREASE last year. That is a board that is out of touch with the times.