Some McHenry County residents saw an increase in the first installment of this year’s property tax bills, which were mailed out last Friday, and this time it just might be enough to push them over the edge ... into Wisconsin.
Aubrey Englund bought her home in Cary’s Eastgate neighborhood in 2014. Englund said her family’s property tax bills have steadily increased since then, with a few bigger jumps here and there. When her bill went up by more than $500 this year, Englund said she and her husband started to consider relocating their family to Wisconsin.
“Our breaking point is going to be if our taxes go up again this next coming year and we can’t get them reduced, then we’re going to have to move and hop the border,” she said.
Englund’s husband is a firefighter/paramedic with the Mundelein Fire Department. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, he has been working significantly reduced hours as he is unable to do the extra things, such as fire safety inspections and local CPR classes, that used to fill up his work week.
“We lost all of that extra income, so now he’s just making the base salary, which literally just pays the bills,” she said. “So not only will we be taking a financial hit, but now we have to think moving forward are we going to continue to live in this home in this area with taxes that we can’t afford.”
The strain that property tax payments have placed on their family is so great that Englund said she has to choose between allowing her children to play multiple sports or continuing to live in Illinois.
Island Lake resident Barb Johnson owns a townhome in Newbury Village and said her property tax bill increased by $700 this year.
“I don’t know why taxes have to be raised so much in one year,” Johnson said in a written statement. “We’re thinking of moving out of Illinois. I have been in Island Lake for many years and never had [my tax bill] increase so much.”
McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks has led the County Board in reducing its tax levy for the past three consecutive years. Now, Franks said he thinks it’s time that other taxing bodies in the county try to reduce their burden on taxpayers as well.
“We knew that people were being taxed out of their homes and that we had to do something,” he said. “I begged the other taxing bodies to follow our example.”
In just a few months since the pandemic began, McHenry County’s unemployment rate has risen from about 4% to “over 12.5%,” Franks said.
“And now, our homeowners and business owners, who are overtaxed, just got socked with property tax increases,” he said. “... McHenry County pays more in property taxes, on a per capita basis, than 99.9% of all Americans.”
Englund said she believes the value of her home was improperly assessed during the 2019 Quadrennial Assessment. The value of her home was assessed to be more than $100,000 more than what the family bought it for five years earlier, she said.
In a Quadrennial Assessment Year, which takes place every four years, local assessors look at each individual property in the county to determine its fair market value, according to a report from the McHenry County Office of Assessments. That updated value is used in determining your property tax bills along with your district’s tax rate.
“We had gotten a notice that they had increased our home value from around $250,000 to $306,690, so we hired an attorney to try and fight the assessment, but it was declined,” Englund said.
“[Our house] is very comparable to other houses on our block, which are going for like $230 to $260,000, same square footage, except everyone else’s taxes are around $7,500,” she said. “Our taxes are almost two grand more than all of our neighbors.”
According to a letter from Englund’s attorney, Algonquin Township assessors found that Englund’s property was slightly larger than some other properties in the area which had sold for less, resulting in a higher per-foot market price for her property.
While Englund’s attorney pushed them to consider other value determinants such as number of bedrooms or the impact of other nearby properties, the township board said they were only interested in applying a per-square-foot analysis of the home.
Grafton Township residents seem to have been hit especially hard by tax bill increases and this isn’t the first time, said longtime resident John Mueller.
Mueller said he feels that Grafton Township’s assessor, Alan Zielinski, pays too much attention to the sale prices of nearby, recently sold homes in his assessments, rather than weighing recent sales against a number of other factors. This practice is known as “sales chasing,” he said.
Zielinski could not be reached for comment on Monday, but according to the Grafton Township website, assessments are made based on a variety of property features.
“Theoretically, if everybody’s assessment went up the same, nobody’s taxes would change,” Mueller said. “The reason some people’s tax bills have gone up is because their home values have gone up and other homes in their area didn’t go up as much or went down.”
There are 17 townships within McHenry County, each with its own assessor and its own way of doing business, Mueller said.
Franks said he thinks this plays a role in causing unjust inconsistencies in property assessments and, inevitably, the property taxes they inform.
“Our assessors should be centralized instead of having all of these different ones throughout the county it should just be one,” he said. “I think that way it would be much more uniform...we shouldn’t be treating any of our citizens differently.”
Mueller said that on his property tax bill, which is now well more than $11,000, he has 22 total taxing bodies listed, which includes nine pensions.
“They’ve all made a genuine effort to try and keep things flat because they realize that there’s a lot of irate citizens but that’s just too many,” he said. “And this year where everyone’s been reassessed, the fact that you have all of these taxing bodies just exacerbates the problem.”
As a COVID-19 relief effort, the McHenry County Board recently passed an ordinance waiving late fees and interest accruement for the first installment of this year’s property taxes for a period of 90 days.
Eligible residents can now pay their tax bills anytime before Sept. 15 without penalty, according to a news release from the Treasurer’s Office.
Residents who pay property taxes monthly through an escrow account are not eligible for the waiver, which is about 67% of the county’s population, Treasurer Glenda Miller said.
The limited scope of this ordinance is not nearly enough to help homeowners who are truly struggling under the weight of a crashing economy, Englund said.
“I think it’s just postponing the problem and I think it’s giving families time to worry about it even more without actually having help,” she said. “It’s not something that’s going to be feasible for a lot of families to try and save that money in the next three months and actually be able to pay it.”
Franks said he recognizes that this measure may not be enough for homeowners who have been – and will continue to be – impacted by the economic effects of COVID-19.
“I wish I could do more, that’s why I’m looking at other long-term solutions like cutting salaries for elected officials,” Franks said. “There is nothing that’s not on the table.”
Franks encouraged impassioned residents to run for a local office in order to make their voices heard.
“Hold your governments accountable and ask them to spend less,” he said. “We need more voices in county government.”