By: Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner

The squeeze residents of Palos Heights, Illinois are feeling is the same as what’s playing out in communities across the state. Higher property taxes, falling home values and stagnant incomes are the fallout of Illinois’ burgeoning crisis.

The worsening situation has become increasingly obvious to the residents who live there. “I’ve had neighbors moving out, taking losses on their home,” a resident said at a Palos Heights gathering we attended recently.

Wirepoints was in the southwest Chicago suburb at the invitation of New Illinois, a nonpartisan group dedicated to creating a new state independent of the Chicago area. While Wirepoints doesn’t endorse New Illinois’ mission, we understand the frustration of its supporters, many who feel disenfranchised and forgotten by Illinois politicians.

After looking at the pain of those in Palos Heights and the refusal of Illinois politicians to fix anything, it’s no wonder some residents are looking for a fresh start.

The pain in Palos Heights

Property taxes were, of course, a sore spot for many of the attendees. Effective property taxes in Palos Heights are 2.2 percent. That’s higher than the state’s average and more than double what residents in neighboring Kentucky, Indiana and Missouri pay. 

Several residents warned that the taxes they faced could drive them out of the community.

Dolores Kramarski, one of Palos Heights’ Aldermen said: “There’s a tax on everything. I’m very disappointed in this state. I was born and raised here. I thought I could retire here, but for the same amount of money I could have twice the home in Florida.”

And while not all city residents understand why their property taxes are so high, they certainly know there’s a problem. They’ve seen both their home values fall and their incomes stagnate at the same time.

Median home values in Palos Heights are still down 12 percent when compared to 2009, according to the U.S. Census. That’s bad compared to the rising home prices in states all around Illinois. Home values in Wisconsin are up 10 percent, while in Kentucky – the neighbor with the largest increase – they’re up 26 percent. And in Tennessee, where many Illinoisans now call home, home values are up 29 percent.

Incomes in Palos Heights haven’t done much better. Median private-sector earnings are up just 9 percent since 2005, not enough to even keep up with inflation, up 29 percent over the same period. 

Residents have been forced to pay more taxes with less income, with some of what they pay going toward ever-higher public safety salaries. The average wage for public safety workers has grown 34 percent, to nearly $100,000 a year, over the past 13 years. Those increases are the result of guaranteed raises provided by the state’s union-friendly collective bargaining rules.

And those aren’t the only public sector salaries residents have to pay for. There are also superintendents with $200K-plus annual salaries that will turn into $6-million-plus in lifetime pension benefits when they retire.

A worsening crisis

What’s tough is that while taxpayers in the Palos Heights area are paying more and more money for their government, the crisis only seems to deepen.

Take public safety pensions. Despite a quadrupling of taxpayer contributions into the three local public safety funds since 2005, their unfunded liabilities have tripled to $29 million. 

And at the state level, nothing is being done about multi-million-dollar pension benefits for teachers and district administrators. The top beneficiaries from Palos Heights two elementary school districts, for example, are expected to receive anywhere from $3 million to $5 million in pension benefits over the course of their retirements. The average, career teacher that has recently retired receives a starting benefit of $65,000 a year and can expect lifetime pension benefits exceeding $2.1 million. 

The crisis across Illinois

Palos Heights residents are not alone in their troubles. A vast number of residents across the state experience the same pressures every day. They’re seeing their property taxes rise year after year. Their home values are stagnating or falling. Their neighbors are leaving. And the state and local pension debts they’re on the hook for continue to skyrocket.

With no relief in sight – politicians aren’t calling for a pension amendment, labor reforms, or a real reduction in the number of local governments – it’s no wonder that groups such as New Illinois are gaining traction with disaffected Illinoisans.

The separation movement’s influence is now big enough that Gov. J.B. Pritzker felt compelled to call them and their legislative sponsors out in his 2021 budget address: “Also, trying to separate Chicago from the rest of Illinois, whether rhetorically or literally, will not solve the economic challenges of downstate Illinois. Quite the opposite. Some of you need to stop pretending that one part of Illinois can exist without all the others. We are one Illinois.”

But the only thing Illinoisans have gotten from politicians is more taxes and higher fees. And now Gov. Pritzker and others want a progressive tax scheme.

That’s a bad idea, according to former State Sen. Patrick O’Malley, who attended the meeting. Though he now resides in Florida, the 2002 gubernatorial candidate emphatically told the crowd: “Anybody who says any tax increase is going to be constructive for Illinois truly doesn’t know the reality. There is no tax increase anybody in Illinois should vote for.” 

Ald. Kramarski agreed. “Anybody who thinks any tax is going to be in their favor is sadly mistaken,” she said.

Pritzker seems content to dismiss the concerns of ordinary Illinoisans. In response, Illinoisans are either leaving the state – or looking for a way for the state to leave.

 

Read more about how Illinois’ crises affect people across the state:

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Poor Taxpayer

A U Haul is the answer.
Move ASAP. Start a new better life for you and your family.

Michael

It’s doable, would take years, maybe decades. Illinois Constitution. U.S. Constitution. Two-thirds of U.S. Convenors. – Read what it takes to devide a state.

Linda

How many of you with complaints voted democratic in the last election?

debtsor

Zero of course, because one party rule isn’t democracy. It’s a different form of a third world government. and the results are visible everywhere around you.

The Truth Hurts

“one party rule isn’t democracy”

It is when the people vote for it overwhelmingly. Your argument sounds similar to all of the liberals with TDS claiming that Trump is running a dictatorship. Just like Democrats in Illinois he was duly elected.

DantheMan

I left Illinois before the election. Now I follow Wirepoints to reinforce that I made the right decision. FYI: I did.

The dopey politicians are more worried about a gas powered leaf blower that they want to make illegal. Idiots!

Danni Smith

stop paying re taxes. Everyone. take those homes? then what, gub??

debtsor

Not a good idea. Your mortgage company will pay your taxes and then put you into foreclosure.

Rick

If you can’t get out of Illinois yet, have a house that’s depreciating, you need to just unload it now and downsize. Save off whatever equity you got out of it for a move someday. Palos was my old stomping ground in my 20s, surrounded by massive forest preserves, the biggest anywhere, and its still depreciating! At this time some sucker will still buy your house, but that won’t last for long.

Mike Williams

Exactly. People may be willing to pay $7,000 in RE tax on a modest home. Most however will not pay over $10,000. There is a tipping point where it will be difficult to sell a home regardless of price. I just don’t know how soon Illinois overall will reach that point.

debtsor

Palos is a pretty awesome place. I’ve heard from various people that the Polish community is buying up the area so its undergoing a change.

JB said pension reform not a consideration, JB should not have been a consideration and shouldn’t be next time fool.

Mike Williams

Do you really think it matters what Lib/Dem is gov? They all have the same agenda or game plan.

Susan

TIF-For -All Villages would create incentives for new development with risks properly re-assigned to developer, rather than ignorant taxpayers at large. 1. School districts would be forced to fund new TIF freeriders “for free”, because TIF development cannot be billed beyond a strict statutory limit (to protect bondholders). If a TIF-For-All built a residential development with thousands of school aged population, schools (and other social service provision taxing bodies) would have to manage budgets to accommodate within 5% of prior years’levy. 2. Property taxes would stop being adversely affected by other municipalities TIFs 3. State school funding would be allocated… Read more »

Susan

Another alternative is 100%TIF coverage of Village, and rebated TIF taxes pro rata to property owners who paid them (ameliorate your own blight).

We all know that CPS got obscenely elevated allocation of State funding based upon artificially low EAV measurements as result of TIF (frozen EAV–frozen against 35 years of assessment inflation).

All municipalities could do likewise.

Tom Paine's Ghost

This will never end until Illinois is bankrupt and public sector unions like AFSCME, SEIU, IFT and CTU are made illegal. Look at Wisconsin prosperity and thriving democracy after then end of public sector unions. It’s is a paradise compared to the swamp of criminal co-conspirators that is Illinois.

These criminal unions WANT THEIR PENSIONS. They stole the money from the taxpayers fair and square by bribing and purchasing Illinois Democrat politicians. Both the public sector unions and the politicians are corrupt slime and neither deserve another cent of the taxpayers money.

Illinois Entrepreneur

These town halls are good. They will provoke a bit of anxiety in Illinois’ ruling class, as they get annoyed with noisy constituents. We are still quite far from them actually doing anything remotely “anti”-public union, but grass roots anger is a good option to make them uncomfortable.

One big problem is that much of the local problem is state driven. Your mayor can’t do much, so it’s your state reps and governor that you will have to squeeze. The public unions are WAY ahead of us on that, and they’re not much worried about it.

Susan

In McHenry County taxing districts 3% is on the lower end of the property tax rate scale. Our 4% property tax rate is bragged about by the school board, who are proud of not raising levies (as home prices plummeted and enrollment dropped, and Illinois sent millions more annually). As inflation and attractive rental property cap rates have put a floor under our single family home prices, our rates have fallen to 4% from several years near 5%. Our tax rates cannot fall further. The numerator will never fall: No spending cuts have ever happened in our school district: as… Read more »

Freddy

True. Are you familiar with PTELL? Under those counties (36) that have Ptell the taxing bodies can collect what was LEVIED on total EAV not billed or collected the year before. This way they can get the same amount plus 5% or 1/2 of inflation whichever is less if they choose. Anyone that gets a tax break or abatement is just passed on to other taxpayers in the form of a higher rate. If everyone’s home values go down by say 50% the tax rate is doubled but if the home value doubles they are limited to 5% max.That was… Read more »

Susan

Very familiar with PTELL, as it is the favorite excuse of school board for not decreasing levies in times of severe economic distress in the community.
(If they don’t keep levy high now, they won’t be able to raise it enough during future recovery. )

Freddy

I have a copy of the Winnebago County referendum ballot. The question was “Shall the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (35 ILCS 200/18-185 through 18-245), which limits annual property tax extension increases, apply to non-home rule taxing districts with all or a portion of their equalized assessed valuation location in Winnebago County?” This was Nov 5,1996. How many people really knew what this entailed including myself when voting Yes. What was promoted was limiting tax increases which is good in a rising market but not in a declining one. Ogle county does not have Ptell and their tax rate is… Read more »

Susan

Ignorance of the law is no excuse.
It is time for us taxpayers to grow up, wise up, and take practical measures to defend ourselves against the Political class.