2016 was a tough year for the owners of 671 Lincoln Ave. The red-brick, Georgian house in Winnetka, Ill., was made famous by the 1990 Christmas hit, “Home Alone,” but in real life, it’s not crowbar-wielding burglars coming for the family’s money, but the Cook County government.
In 2015, the owners of the “Home Alone” house paid over $35,700 in property taxes, and by 2016, the property taxes on the home had climbed to more than $36,500. And this was with a homeowners’ exemption, according to the Cook County Treasurer’s office.
A Freedom of Information Act inquiry made in November 2015 revealed that almost $750,000 in property taxes have been paid on the Lincoln Avenue home since the 1990 release of “Home Alone.” Adding the property taxes paid in 2016, the property taxes paid on the “Home Alone” house since 1990 total more than $782,000 when adjusted for inflation. This amounts to almost half the value of the home, which sold for $1.585 million in 2012, according to the Chicago Tribune, and is currently valued at about $1.54 million by the Cook County assessor’s office.
And the “Home Alone” house owners are not the only ones feeling the pinch.
Property taxes in Cook County and across the Land of Lincoln are among the highest in the nation and are causing many to pay what essentially amounts to a second mortgage. In the past 50 years, property taxes have grown 2.5 times faster than inflation, 14 times faster than the state’s population and 3.3 times faster than Illinoisans’ median household income.
It’s a cash grab the Wet Bandits could only dream of.
Although it would be a good start, property-tax caps are not enough to relieve overtaxed homeowners. If property taxes were capped now, it would take 28 years for the rates to return to 1990 levels.
Consolidate local governments to reduce the burden on taxpayers
One important factor that drives these increasing taxes is redundant and unnecessary levels of local government, which are paid for through property taxes. Illinois has the most units of local government in the country with nearly 7,000, dwarfing the nearest competitor by around 1,800 units.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
DuPage County has consolidated several units of local government and is projected to save $116 million by sharing services, $20 million in overhauling employee benefits and $6.9 million by closing its youth home and partnering with Kane County for youth detention services.
And residents of DuPage County have voiced strong approval of other consolidation measures, too. On Election Day, voters in eight DuPage County municipalities voted “yes” on several non-binding ballot questions on consolidating local units of government. For example, 78 percent of DuPage voters said they approved of abolishing townships if the services could be handled by another unit of government at lower cost, according to the Daily Herald.
DuPage County has been referred to as a model by the Lieutenant Governor’s Task Force on Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates, and legislation in the Illinois General Assembly would increase all Illinois counties’ ability to consolidate government. House Bill 4501 was sponsored by state Rep. Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake, and is largely seen as a bipartisan solution to some of the high costs of Illinois government. The bill passed the House in April, 93-19, and is currently in the Senate.
Real reform is imperative as Illinois residents face heavier tax burdens with each passing year. A property-tax cap combined with aggressive government consolidation and sharing services would make government leaner and less costly. For taxpayers, that would be the gift that keeps on giving the whole year round.