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The Home Front

Chicagoans will dig deeper into frayed and near-empty pockets to help pay Mayor Emanuel’s $8.2 billion budget. Home, condominium, and small apartment building owners – and renters – will feel the squeeze from rising real estate taxes and a new 7.7 percent surcharge on the recently hiked utility tax on water, sewer, and garbage collection.

1-Jan-17 – The New Year’s heavy tax burden is already upon us.

Chicagoans will be hit with a potpourri of taxes, including higher parking meter fees – boosted from $2 to $4 an hour near Wrigley Field – a new Cook County tax on sweetened beverages – $1.44 more for a 12-pack of Diet Coke – a 3.5 percent amusement tax on the full value of sporting event tickets, and a new seven-cent tax on paper and plastic grocery bags.

One wonders if there soon will be a tax on the air we breathe to help pay the pension funds for city municipal workers, police officers, and firefighters. Don’t inhale too deeply because the stench of airplane fuel is in the air on the northwest side from those low-flying jets landing at the new east-west runways at O’Hare International Airport.

Experts say the total property tax increase in 2017 for the City of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools will total $376 million. That’s in addition to the $427 million tax bite for the city and schools in 2016.

In 2017, it will cost the owner of a $250,000 home an extra $348 per year in real estate taxes. Add the estimated $53 increase for new water, sewer, and garbage taxes, and the typical homeowner will pay about $400 more in 2017.

On the city’s north side, where many homes are valued at more than $500,000, that translates into an annual tax increase of more than $750 per homeowner.

The average Chicago family will pay nearly $1,700 more to the city and schools than they did before Emanuel took office in 2011. This includes a series of property tax hikes, water and sewer rate increases, new garbage hauling fees, a 911 phone tax, vehicle sticker fee increases, plus a tax on cable television.

50 percent tax hikes not uncommon in Near North neighborhoods

In 2016, Chicago homeowners’ real estate tax bills rose an average of 12.8 percent because of the 2015 tax hikes. However, tax bill increases ranged from 25 to 50 percent or more on the wealthy Gold Coast, and in River North, Old Town, Lincoln Park, and “hot” neighborhoods such as Wicker Park, Bucktown, and Logan Square.

Photo by Victor Grigas For example, the owner of a brick Victorian three-flat in the Old Town Historic District was slapped with a 2015 real estate tax bill of $24,849, up 42 percent from 2014.

After tax appeal, the owner won a 12.9 percent assessment reduction that reduced the tax bill to $21,645, resulting in a final tax increase of 23.8 percent for 2015.

Unfortunately, the tax-shocked owner also is anticipating a tax increase of at least $1,700 when the second installment of the 2016 tax bill arrives in July 2017. In 2001, the tax bill on his Old Town three-flat was $12,091, so the owner’s taxes have skyrocketed a shocking 79 percent in 15 years.


New utility tax will climb

As if the real estate tax bite for schools and pensions is not enough, property owners already are burdened with a new $239 million utility tax on water and sewer bills, starting with a 7.7 percent tax in 2017. The tax would jump to 14 percent in 2018, 21 percent in 2019, and top out at 28 percent in 2020-2021. Chicago’s 66,000 senior citizens who live in single-family homes are exempt from the new tax.

With an annual use of 7,500 gallons of water, the average Chicago household currently pays $686 a year for water and sewer services. The new utility tax is expected to cost the typical homeowner $4.43 more a month, or $53.16 a year, in 2017. In the fourth and fifth years, the added tax burden is expected to grow to about $226 a year.

In spring 2016, Mayor Emanuel also launched the city’s new garbage fees program. Single-family homeowners now pay a garbage fee of $19 every other month, or a total of $114 a year. Small rental apartment owners also pay $19 every other month for each unit in their buildings. The garbage fee for the owner of a three-flat is $57 every other month, or $9.50 per dwelling unit. The three-flat owner is billed a total of $342 per year for garbage pickup.

Refuse fees are now included in the city’s first unified utility bill, which reflects two months of water, sewer, and garbage charges.

With the new 7.7 percent utility tax in 2017, the owner of a three-flat will pay an additional $26 every other month just for garbage pickup, or $158 more for the year. Flickr user garbageboy12

All these tax increases assume the rate of inflation stays the same and there are no more budget surprises to be sprung on bewildered and battered Chicagoans.

Starting on June 1, 2017, annual water rates can be adjusted upwards, based on the previous year’s rate of inflation. However, any such annual increase is capped at 105 percent of the previous year’s rate.

The Chicago property tax wallop comes at a time when Illinois already is posting the highest median property tax rate in the nation, not to mention the highest sales tax rate.

Maybe that’s why Illinois’ population is shrinking faster than any other state in America. Illinois lost 37,508 residents between July 1, 2015, and July 1, 2016, the United States Census Bureau reported, and a whopping 114,000 Illinois residents have fled to other states since 2010.

Photos: Paramount Pictures, Victor Grigas, Flickr user garbageboy12