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Residents have to stick around if they pay property taxes in dollar bills, McHenry County treasurer says

WOODSTOCK — If you plan on protesting your high McHenry County property-tax bill by paying it in small denominations, it would behoove you to clear your calendar for that day.

Treasurer Glenda Miller announced a policy requiring people who pay their tax installments in large sums of cash to be physically present while the money is being counted. Miller said in a news release that the policy is for the protection of both the taxpayer and her staff.

The date the policy officially took effect was June 14 – the day after two frustrated taxpayers, supported by a small but spirited anti-tax protest in the treasurer’s parking lot, paid their first installments in dollar bills. At least three members of Illinois Tax Revolution, a pro-taxpayer group borne of that act, plan to pay their second installments in singles at a follow-up protest next Wednesday.

Miller made the new policy known with the deadline for second installments coming up on Sept. 13. She said both payments took “valuable treasurer’s office administrative time to verify.”

“The five hours that it took for my staff to count the cash prevented her from continuing her regular office duties,” Miller said.

Group Chairman Bob Anderson, of Wonder Lake, said he supports the policy, which also is in place in Lake County, where members protested last week. He said both treasurers have been courteous and that staying for the payment rather than dropping off a bunch of paper money is just common sense.

“You should be [present], and you should get a receipt,” Anderson said.

The Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation ranks McHenry County’s property-tax burden as the 29th highest for all counties in the U.S., in a state that has either the highest or second-highest burden of all 50 states, depending on what study you read.

Adding to taxpayer aggravation is that not only have bills stayed the same or increased despite home values falling after the housing bubble burst, but also that the very tax cap law passed to protect them when home values were increasing now allows governments to capture inflationary revenue and continue to drive bills upward.

McHenry homeowner Dan Aylward, who made national headlines on June 13 when he paid his first $5,734.18 installment in dollar bills, plans to do the same Wednesday for his second installment. He said taxes will one day drive him out of the home along the Fox River that has been in his family for more than a century.

The treasurer’s office is only responsible for collecting property taxes, and does not have a role in determining them. Individual taxing bodies calculate their rates, which are finalized by the county clerk’s office once the tax cap and other factors are applied, and all township assessment appeals are settled.

But because Illinois has more units of government than any other state – property-tax bills easily can have 10 or more bodies on them – attending all of their meetings to ask for tax relief is no small task for a taxpayer.

Other groups are working to make statements about local property taxes.

Volunteers in Lakewood, Cary and Fox River Grove gathered enough signatures to put advisory referendums on their Nov. 8 ballots asking whether governments should be required to go to referendum for any tax increase. Taxing bodies under current law only have to go to referendum if they want more money than the tax cap allows – the law caps non home-rule governments to an increase of either the rate of inflation or 5 percent over the previous tax extension, whichever is less.

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