Gov. Bruce Rauner issued an amendatory veto of Senate Bill 2544
Aug. 27, which would have allowed for a referendum on Lake County ballots in
November asking voters if the county’s chief assessor position should be elected
rather than appointed.
Rauner’s amendatory veto removed the provision specifying that this bill applies
only to Lake County, and inserted language that would expand it to all counties,
stating, “what is beneficial to Lake County taxpayers and voters may also be
beneficial to citizens across the state, who should get the same opportunity to
determine whether an elected county assessor would better serve their
Regardless of whether having an elected assessor would improve or worsen the
accuracy of assessments, it would do little to address the more pressing issue
Lake County homeowners are facing: high property taxes, and the pension costs
that are fueling them.
Property tax pain in Lake County
Illinois has some of the most expensive property taxes in the nation, and Lake
County has some of the highest property taxes in the state. Lake County
homeowners have seen their property taxes rise by more than $1,100 per person
since 1996 after adjusting for inflation.
In theory, homeowners could benefit from higher property taxes
through higher home values, if those property tax dollars were going toward
improving the delivery of valued services. That doesn’t seem to be the case in
Lake County, where residential property tax bills grew more than 160 percent
faster than home values from 1996 to 2016. Sadly, this phenomenon is not
surprising nor unique to Lake County. Less than 50 cents of every additional
property tax dollar levied in Illinois since 1996 has gone to services. Rather,
the single largest driver of the increase in property taxes over that 20-year
period was pension costs.[to top of second column]
Of every additional property tax dollar that went
to municipal police departments in Lake County over that time, 82
cents went to pensions, not law enforcement. Homeowners are now
seeing the vast majority of their property tax dollars for police
flow to pension payments.
The pension problem is even worse for fire
departments in Lake County. Residents saw a $3.6 million cut in
property tax dollars flowing toward fire protection and a $12.6
million increase in property tax dollars flowing to pension costs
for municipal fire departments in Lake County from 1996 to 2016.
In 1996, 62 cents of every property tax dollar for municipal fire
departments went to fire protection in Lake County. But by 2016,
only 18 cents of each dollar went to fire protection, with the rest
going to pensions.
Until state lawmakers address this overwhelming
rise in pension costs, Lake County residents will not see meaningful
property tax relief, and government workers will continue to see
their retirements put in jeopardy.
A short-term solution to this problem is enrolling every new
government worker in a 401(k)-style retirement plan, similar to what
more than 20,000 state university workers have opted into. A
long-term solution must include a constitutional amendment to allow
changes in future, unearned pension benefits for government workers.
This would allow for reasonable changes such as ending automatic 3
percent annual benefit increases for retirees and bringing
government worker retirement ages in line with the private sector.
Time is of the essence. Due to heavy outmigration, most of Lake
County’s largest communities are shrinking, and it is the only
collar county to have lost population since 2010.
In order to attract and retain residents, state lawmakers must avoid
raising taxes and diminishing services to pay for unsustainable
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