Local

McHenry County Property Taxes: Money in the bank — good investment or slush fund?

Note to readers: This is the intro to part four of our series, Property Taxes: Follow the Money. Read about school districts' cash in the bank and other half of part four on other taxing entities' cash in the bank. 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.

Looking at Harrison School District 36's transportation fund just makes Cliff Leegard angry.

The 69-year-old Wonder Lake resident joined a lawsuit objecting the property tax levies filed by the district as well as multiple other entities last month.

His frustration stemmed from the $2.8 million the single-building school district has collected in property taxes over three years for transportation but was instead used to pay bond payments or is just sitting in the bank.

"I don’t want them to just have a slush fund they can spend at will," Leegard said.

Harrison School District 36 is one of four school districts in McHenry County to have enough money in their operating funds to cover a year's worth of normal expenses at the end of their 2013-14 budget year, the most recent year complete records are available for, a Northwest Herald analysis found.

More than a quarter of taxing entities – which includes school districts, municipalities, sanitary districts, townships, park districts, fire protection districts and library districts – have that much money in the bank, though those numbers can be inflated for taxing entities that use a cash accounting system instead of an accrual one, the analysis found.

"It really is good government and good planning to have some level of a rainy day fund, some sort of money set aside," said Carol Portman, the president of the watchdog group Taxpayers' Federation of Illinois. "Most governments – because local governments get most of their revenue from property taxes – have a fair amount of control, but you don't know what kind of expenses you'll have and you don't know what hiccups will come."

Note to readers: This is the intro to part four of our series, Property Taxes: Follow the Money. Read about school districts' cash in the bank and other half of part four on other taxing entities' cash in the bank. 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.

Looking at Harrison School District 36's transportation fund just makes Cliff Leegard angry.

The 69-year-old Wonder Lake resident joined a lawsuit objecting the property tax levies filed by the district as well as multiple other entities last month.

His frustration stemmed from the $2.8 million the single-building school district has collected in property taxes over three years for transportation but was instead used to pay bond payments or is just sitting in the bank.

"I don’t want them to just have a slush fund they can spend at will," Leegard said.

Harrison School District 36 is one of four school districts in McHenry County to have enough money in their operating funds to cover a year's worth of normal expenses at the end of their 2013-14 budget year, the most recent year complete records are available for, a Northwest Herald analysis found.

More than a quarter of taxing entities – which includes school districts, municipalities, sanitary districts, townships, park districts, fire protection districts and library districts – have that much money in the bank, though those numbers can be inflated for taxing entities that use a cash accounting system instead of an accrual one, the analysis found.

"It really is good government and good planning to have some level of a rainy day fund, some sort of money set aside," said Carol Portman, the president of the watchdog group Taxpayers' Federation of Illinois. "Most governments – because local governments get most of their revenue from property taxes – have a fair amount of control, but you don't know what kind of expenses you'll have and you don't know what hiccups will come."

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