EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one half of part two of our series Property Taxes: Follow the Money. Read the other half on school districts' tax rates. For Illinoisans, property taxes are a sore spot. Illinois has the second highest property taxes in the nation, and McHenry County is in the top 10 for highest property taxes in the state. Illinois also ranks first in the country with nearly 7,000 taxing districts, which makes examining one’s tax bill a confusing exercise. While taxpayers are annoyed by the price tag, property taxes are also a primary source of revenue for local taxing bodies. This series examines some of the issues in Illinois for residents and taxing bodies.
Throughout the years, Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Bob Miller said the department has incorporated services that have been requested by constituents.
The purpose and effectiveness of townships in McHenry County have been called into question, most recently by a group called McHenry County Citizens for Township Consolidation.
The group argued consolidation would save taxpayer money and improve accountability, and a five-member McHenry County Township Consolidation Task Force was formed to explore the issue.
The McHenry County Board voted against putting township consolidation on the March 2016 ballot in October, because of a lack of hard information on the effects of merging townships, and some said property taxes for many McHenry County residents would increase.
Algonquin Township’s property tax extension was a total of $5.85 million, with the roads and bridges extension being $4.05 million, according to McHenry County’s tax computation report for 2014.
With 56.81 center-line miles the township is responsible for, according to IDOT’s calculation used to determine motor fuel tax funds, $71,272.51 is the amount of money received per center-line mile, the highest of any township.
Miller said his constituents are looking for services that are comparable to city services, which is why it takes more money to maintain the roads.
One thing that accounts for this is the subdivisions in the township, many of which have sidewalks and curb and gutter streets.
“They’re much more urban in nature than some of the townships out west,” Miller said.
Using center-line miles also does not account for roads with multiple lanes, or how much traffic those roads see.
“The higher the traffic volumes the more often they have to be resurfaced and repaired,” Miller said, adding that Crystal Lake Avenue, Silver Lake Road and East Main Street are some roads that get heavy traffic.
He also said blacktop doesn’t last as long as it used to, and roads are now cracking in a few years.
Algonquin Township’s recycling program is included in the roads and bridges levy, Miller said, and includes services people have asked for, such as curbside pickup and recycling programs for clothing, cellphone and plastic foam.
“We try to mirror a lot of the programs that are offered by the city so that our people are offered the same services,” Miller said.
Miller said one important thing to note is that more than $1 million of the roads and bridges extension for the township goes back to the municipalities located within the township.
“It is a significant chunk,” Miller said.
All townships under Illinois law have three statutory functions, but the services they provide can differ based on the money they levy and receive for property taxes each year and what their constituents want to see, township officials say.
Townships are responsible for assessing properties, maintaining roads and providing assistance to constituents in need. Property tax levies for townships in McHenry County are divided into two funds, one for the township and one for roads and bridges.
McHenry and Nunda townships received the next highest extensions for their road and bridges fund in 2014, $3.33 million and $3.28 million, respectively.
McHenry Township asked for about $33,960 per mile, with 98 center-line miles in the township, and Nunda Township asked for about $33,335 per center-line mile, with 98.47 miles in the township.
Alden Township asked for the lowest amount at about $4,606 per their 36.87 center-line miles.
Preston Rea, Alden Township supervisor, said Alden is the most rural township in the county. For their road services, they prepare paved roads and provide snowplowing services, Rea said.
While Algonquin received the highest extension for roads and bridges in 2014, its tax rate for road and bridges was the third lowest at about 0.19 percent.
The tax rate for townships is determined by dividing the requested levy by the equalized assessed value for the taxing district.
If a township has a smaller tax base, their total EAV will be smaller, which could increase the township’s tax rate.
McHenry County Chief Assessor Bob Ross said the total EAV and amount of commercial or industrial land within a jurisdiction can make a big difference on the tax rate.
Dunham Township’s tax rate for 2014 was the highest for township and roads and bridges funds combined at about 0.84 percent.
The population for Dunham Township also is one of the smallest, at 2,844, compared with the largest population in Algonquin at 88,389.
Dunham Township Supervisor John Pihl said Dunham’s rate may be higher because in 2012, voters approved a $1 million road bond, which the township had to pay off over 10 years.
“We use it at our discretion where we thought we needed it the most,” Pihl said, saying the money goes toward services including blacktopping, shouldering, crack-sealing, mowing, plowing and putting up signage.
Burton Township had the second-lowest rate overall at about 0.26 for the township of 5,003 people.
Burton Township Supervisor Sam Jones said the township always is looking for ways to save money.
The township fund mostly goes toward paying for utilities for a township hall that does not have bathrooms.
Jones, the assessor, clerk, road commissioner and four trustees work from home, Jones said, and do not charge the township for electric or Internet usage while at home.
Aside from utilities, Burton’s township fund also goes toward general and emergency assistance programs that will help pay for constituents basic needs or bills if they qualify, Jones said.
“They keep wanting to consolidate and get rid of, and what people don’t understand is we’re the most frugal,” Jones said.