As the beginning of summer rolls in, we celebrate our graduates for their accomplishments, particularly, our high schoolers who will begin their next endeavor of higher education, employment or serving our country. For those that go away, we hope it is temporary, and look forward to their return “home.” Unfortunately, the possibility of return is proving more challenging.
Recently, the Northwest Herald shared our anemic population growth in McHenry County since the 2010 census. Compared with the rest of Illinois’ downward population trend, this is a relief. But what is suppressing our population growth?
I’d bet most people know at least a handful of other people who already have left the state. It might be argued that our weather is a factor, but then why did Wisconsin increase in population? Or Indiana or Michigan?
The weather is a great side benefit for some who choose to move south. It is undoubtedly taxes, particularly property taxes, driving people away. Ask any Realtor why people are leaving or what is keeping people from relocating to McHenry County, particularly those from out of state and they will tell you taxes are a major consideration.
If anecdotal evidence isn’t enough, take a look at our upper-end market ($500,000-plus) and see not only the decline in housing values, but the incredibly long time it takes to move these properties.
Tax bills on a $500,000 owner-occupied home are anywhere from $16,000 to $18,000 around the county. This issue will be further exasperated by the $10,000 federal limit on State And Local Taxes (SALT) deductions.
For properties in the price range of $500,000 to $999,999, there are enough homes on the market to meet the demand (closed sales) for the next 18 months. And at the million dollar and above price range, the stat doubles to 36.1 month’s worth of supply. While properties under $500,000, where tax bills are mostly under $10,000 – the new federal deductible limit – there is a shortage of inventory.
Coincidence? I think not.
There is a more troubling population number: student enrollment. Graduating seniors, in many cases, are leaving school districts with drastically reduced student bodies from when they started in kindergarten (2005).
Looking at the latest numbers (2017) from the Illinois State Board of Education, McHenry County has lost or remains flat in 15 of its 19 school districts since 2005. Only one had incredibly strong growth (Huntley), while three had moderate growth.
I suppose, if I’m a school administrator, the question I’d have is whether the student population is going to rebound. There’s both hope and despair. Where I think we might find increased population is that the millennial generation, which is said to be even larger than the baby boomers, are entering child-bearing years.
Can the school systems endure this downturn in student population for another decade or more? Can county residents endure the property taxes to support a system with such a decreased enrollment?
With these concerns, McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks and the entire Board has called preliminary meetings of a few of the local school districts to begin looking at what truly can be done.
It will be impossible to solve everything in one meeting, but as a resident and a taxpayer of McHenry County, I hope it is a constructive dialogue that drives at solving this important problem, and hopefully this is the beginning. No one should be satisfied with high property taxes, declining enrollment and anemic population growth. We are all partners in this, not adversaries.
We have to stop looking around for someone else to fix the problem and start looking in the mirror at what we can do … ourselves … locally.
• Jim Haisler, MRE, RCE, is the chief executive officer for the Heartland Realtor Organization, headquartered in Crystal Lake.