The following was written by Austin Berg and distributed by the Illinois Policy Institute:
Bob’s Countryside Barber Shoppe is a pillar of the Wonder Lake, Ill., community.
Since 1962, Bob Anderson has cut hair and conversed with customers young and old at his modest storefront on Barnard Mill Road.
But those conversations have taken a turn for the worse.
“When I started there were a lot of German immigrants who were buying small summer homes here. And this is where they retired,” Anderson said. “Now those same people come into the shop and all they talk about is their property-tax bill. They can’t afford it anymore.”
Bearing the nation’s highest property taxes is no easy task for many Illinoisans, Anderson included. The house he built for his family, just a stone’s throw from his barber shop, came with a nearly $10,000 property-tax bill this year.
“I grew up around here, and there was not a home that cost $10,000,” Anderson said.
Rising property taxes are what first spurred Anderson to activism.
Residents elected him to the local school board in 2015 on a school-district-consolidation platform.
And on June 15, he made his biggest splash yet.
The barber from Wonder Lake made headlines across the state for paying his property taxes in $1 bills.
Joining him was Dan Aylward, a resident of nearby McHenry who said rising property taxes are forcing him out of a home his uncle built in 1911.
“The day I leave this place I will cry,” Aylward said. “It’s more than a structure to me. It’s part of our heritage. And they’re taking it away.”
To pay his year’s first installment of property taxes, Aylward arrived at the McHenry County treasurer’s office with $5,734.18.
He paid a bit extra this year. “Two cents for my opinion,” Aylward said.
A study released April 27 by global real estate services company CoreLogic shows Illinoisans face the highest median property-tax rate in the nation at 2.67 percent. That means an Illinois homeowner with a house worth $200,000 would pay $5,340 in property taxes for the year.
That bill is double the national median, according to the study. Some Illinois homeowners are paying more in property taxes than they do on their mortgages.
Many families decide to downsize to save on property taxes. Others try to scrimp and save. Others leave.
Leaving is the choice for Jeff McGrath, a Woodstock resident who joined the protest, paying more than $11,000 in property taxes on his home and business in singles.
McGrath plans to move his home and small automotive business to Wisconsin – if he can sell his Illinois property, that is. Buyers aren’t eager to shoulder such a heavy tax burden that’s only grown higher and higher each year.
Residential property taxes now eat up 6.4 percent of the typical household income in Illinois, according to Illinois Policy Institute research. In 1990, that share was 3.6 percent.
While property taxes have been on a dramatic rise throughout the state, incomes have flatlined. In other words, the cost of local government is crowding out other items in family budgets: groceries, diapers, medicine, you name it.
Instead, nearly two-thirds of Illinoisans’ property-tax dollars go to 859 local school districts, which are ripe for reform. More than a third of those districts serve fewer than 600 students. And 3 in 4 Illinois superintendents take home a six-figure salary.
Illinoisans shouldn’t be footing the bill for expensive extra administrators they don’t need.
Consolidating Illinois school districts would be a big step in the right direction when it comes to property taxes. If the average Illinois school district served the same number of students as the average California school district, for example, Illinois taxpayers would be on the hook for 500 fewer school districts.
Beyond action at the local level, Illinois state lawmakers have refused to grant relief to homeowners. Even amid record-breaking bills, the General Assembly failed to send even a limited property-tax freeze to the governor’s desk in 2016.
Without reform, homeowners can expect even more pain in their pocketbooks. One Wonder Lake barber offers a shoulder to lean on.
“To me they’re making a wise decision,” Anderson said of his customers who have left for greener pastures. “But it shouldn’t be this way. I’m determined to stay and fight.”