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How to read and understand your McHenry County property tax bill

How to read your McHenry County property taxes.
How to read your McHenry County property taxes.

It’s that time of the year for homeowners – property tax bills have come in the mail.

If you want to set this article down or click out of it and scream, go right ahead. McHenry County homeowners, as one study shows, have the 29th highest property tax burden in the nation, in the state with the highest burden of all 50 states.

You back with us? Outstanding. We’d like to teach you how to read your bill.

Like most people, you probably zeroed right in on the total amount you owe. But have you ever taken the time to read all of the small type in between?

Don’t blow it off like you would the microscopic print explaining the McDonald’s Monopoly contest rules. This print explains how much each of your taxing bodies are asking for, and how your township and county government calculated the taxable value of your home.

Reading your bill is easy, McHenry County Treasurer Glenda Miller said. For the record, don’t bombard her office with angry calls – her office only collects the money, and it has nothing to do with how much you owe.

“It could be simple if they take the time. I try to educate taxpayers and walk them through it,” Miller said.

The Northwest Herald will do just that. We’ll outline the bare basics here, but if you go to the online version of this story, we will go through how to read your property tax bill, step by step and line by line.

Identifying you and what you owe

Both the body of your bill and the tear-off stubs that you mail in with your payments contain the street address of the property being taxed and the parcel ID number, or PIN, that township and county government use.

Why is your PIN important to you? Simple – if you plan on calling township or county officials for help in understanding your bill, it’s much easier for them to look it up by your PIN rather than your address.

You can find how much you owe in each installment on the right-hand side of the mail-in stubs or near the bottom of the center of your bill proper.

As a friendly reminder, your first installment is due June 5, and your second is due Sept. 5.

That shaded box between your address and your PIN is a painful reminder of how much your bills will increase for each month you don’t pay – the penalty is 1.5 percent a month.

Too late to appeal

If you have a problem with how much you owe, it’s too late now to do anything about it.

Your next opportunity will be later this year, when your township assessor calculates your home’s value for the property taxes payable in 2018.

People have 30 days to appeal their assessments once they are printed by a township in a newspaper of record, Chief County Assessment Officer Robert Ross said. However, you also will get a postcard in the mail reminding you of when the 30-day window begins – McHenry County is one of only two in Illinois that does that, Ross said.

Taxable value

There’s a column of numbers on the right-hand side of your bill offset in a black box. That tells you how the taxable value of your home was calculated, and whether you took advantage of any of the exemptions that are available to property owners.

In broad terms, your taxes are calculated based on one-third of the fair cash value of your home, which is the first number in the column. The fair cash value essentially is what your township supervisor of assessments concludes you could get for your home.

“The first question you ask yourself is, ‘Does this make sense?’ Is this something you’d sell your house for?” Ross said.

The number right below your fair cash value is your assessed valuation, or exactly one-third of your home’s fair cash value. But we’re not done yet – there are a number of steps to go through that will change that value.

The next number is what’s commonly called your township multiplier, which usually adds to the assessed value of your home. If home sales over a three-year period average higher than market values, the multiplier adds to the assessed value of your home. If sale prices are below market values, such as many were in the wake of the housing crash a decade ago, the multiplier will decrease the assessed value.

The multiplier acts as an equalizing factor meant to ensure that no property owners in the township are paying too much or too little – that’s why the final value by which your tax bill is calculated is called “equalized assessed valuation.”

Below the township multiplier and your equalized value is your taxable value according to the McHenry County Board of Review. If you happened to appeal your assessment and convinced the board that your property was over-assessed, the new value will be reflected here – if you did not appeal or your appeal was unsuccessful, this number will be exactly the same as your EAV.

Ignore the board of review multiplier and the state multiplier – visit the online component of this story to learn why you can disregard them.

Exemptions

Now take a look at your exemptions. These are ways, not much different from the deductions you can claim on your income tax, that you can reduce the taxable value of your home.

Chief Deputy Assessment Officer Carol Saunders said the assessor’s office works each year to let taxpayers know what’s available to them.

There are a lot of exemptions. We try to get information to the taxpayers all the time about all the exemptions they can be granted,” Saunders said.

By far the most common exemption is the homestead exemption, which knocks $6,000 off the taxable value of your home if it is your primary residence. The next most common is the senior citizen homestead exemption, which knocks off another $5,000 for residents 65 and older. Senior citizens older than 65 and with less than $55,000 a year in household income can apply for a freeze of any increase because of inflation – it does not freeze the bill, however.

Other exemptions include an exemption of up to $25,000 for substantial home improvements – not routine maintenance – and a number of exemptions for disabled residents, disabled veterans and veterans returning home from duty in armed conflict.

The “Net Taxable Amount” number near the bottom of the column is just what it sounds like – the taxable value of your property after your exemptions are deducted. Now the government applies the rates that the taxing bodies ask for.

Taxing bodies

On the left side of your bill is a long list of every taxing body asking you for money.

The rate is the amount of money they charge per $100 in EAV on your home. The amount they levy for pensions is listed separately under state law, so you add them together to determine the total each body charges.

The next number is the percentage of your total tax bill that each government accounts for – as you’ll notice, public schools by far account for the biggest slice of the pie. The next two columns – what they’re charging this year and what they charged you last year – lets you see how much more they’re taking from you.

Because we’re doing a public service with this article, let’s temporarily suspend the rule in journalism that frowns upon editorializing in stories, especially if you’re angry about the size of your tax bill.

With the exception of county government, which you elect in even-numbered years, the officials for every other taxing body on your bill – every single one – are elected in the April election in odd-numbered years. That’s the election in which not even one voter in five casts ballots. The 15 percent turnout in last month’s election was the highest it’s been in years.

Yes, even-year elections are more interesting – Republican vs. Democrat, root for your team and all that. But if you’re hot under the collar about your property taxes, or worse yet, you’re among the growing number of people who are wondering whether you will be able to afford to stay in your homes, that odd-year election is the one you need to show up for.

The next election for these offices is April 2, 2019. Write it down. No excuses.

And the total is …

All of the tax rates for all of the taxing bodies on your bill are added up, and that sum is applied to every $100 in EAV on your net taxable amount. The grand total, “Total Current Year Tax Due,” is at the bottom of the column on the far right.

To learn more

Please visit the online component of this story to learn about the aspects of your bill in greater detail. But the local officials in charge of tax bills also are available to answer questions.

If you have a question about assessments, call the McHenry County Office of Assessments at 815-334-4290. Wondering how the tax rate is calculated? Call the county clerk at 815-334-4242. Have questions about billing and collection of the tax? Call the treasurer’s office at 815-334-4260.

As a final word of advice, you’re not going to convince these offices to lower your taxes over the phone. One, they can’t do that. Two, each property’s taxes are thoroughly checked on multiple levels through multiple offices.

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