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Chicago’s ‘Tax Tsunami’ Builds As Waves Of New Property Taxes Hit

The “Tax Tsunami” that is hitting Chicago property owners is not only about the rising real estate taxes and the new utility tax on water, sewer and garbage collection.

It really is about massive, newly approved $5.4 billion Chicago Board of Education budget that relies on a trio of new real estate tax hikes that will come like waves of a tsunami.

For more than two decades the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) plans to boost its regular property tax levy to the maximum amount allowed by law. Again, the CPS also will collect on a capital improvement property tax enacted last year to financing borrowing for infrastructure projects.

However the biggest chunk of cash will come from a new property tax boost expected to generate $250 million to help cover the CPS’s massive teacher pension obligations.

Experts say the total property tax increase will cost the owner of a $250,000 home an extra $245 per year. For the North Side, where many homes are valued at more than $500,000, that translates into an annual tax increase of nearly $500.

On August 24th, the school board appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel also voted unanimously to authorize taking out a $1.5 billion credit line to help the CPS to pay its bills this year. It also approved up to $945 million in borrowing for unspecified Chicago Board of Education construction projects.

The $338 million capital budget includes spending $27 million to install air conditioners at 61 CPS-operated and charger schools. Another $57 million is earmarked for internet upgrades and other technology projects, including new security cameras and metal detectors.

Chicago homeowners’ tax bills already have risen an average of 12.8 percent this year. However, the 2015 tax hikes that were due on August 1st ranged from 25 percent to 30 percent or more in Old Town and Lincoln Park, and “hot” neighborhoods such as Wicker Park, Bucktown and Logan Square.

Mayor Emanuel says the city needs to raise $588 million in new revenue to pay for pensions of teachers, police and firefighters.

The Chicago property-tax wallop comes at a time when Illinois already is posting the highest median property tax rate in the nation, not to mention the highest sale-tax rate in America.

As if the real estate tax bite for schools were not enough, property owners already are burdened with a new $239 million utility tax on water and sewer bills starting with a 7 percent tax in 2017.

The proposed utility tax would jump to 14 percent in 2018, and rise to 21 percent in 2019. It would top out at 28 percent in 2020-2021. However, Chicago’s 66,000 senior citizens who live in single-family homes would be exempt from the new tax.

Mayor Emanuel is lobbying Chicago aldermen for passage of the new water-sewer surcharge, which can be enacted by the City Council in mid-September under the city’s sweeping home-rule power. It does not require approval from the Illinois Legislature.

With an annual use of 7,500 gallons of water the average Chicago household currently pays $686 a year for water and sewer services. The new utility tax is expected to cost the average homeowner $4.43 more a month, or $53.16 a year in 2017. In the fourth and fifth years, the added tax burden is expected to grow to about $226 a year.

Earlier this spring Mayor Emanuel also launched the city’s new “garbage fees” program. Single-family homeowners now pay a new garbage fee of $19 every other month, or a total of $114 a year. Small rental apartment owners also pay $19 every other month for each unit in their buildings.

So, the garbage fee for the owner of a 4-unit building is $76 every other month, or $9.50 per dwelling unit. The 4-flat owner is billed a total of $456 per year for garbage.

Garbage fees now are included in the city’s first unified utility bill, which reflects two months of water, sewer and garbage charges.

If the new 7-percent utility tax is enacted, the owner of a 4-flat will pay an additional $23 every other month in 2017 or $137 more for the year. In 2018, the annual utility tax would jump to $294 based on the 14 percent surcharge. In 2019, at the 21-percent tax rate, the annual utility tax bill would rise to $412. In 2020 and 2021, at the 28-percent tax rate, the annual utility-tax increase tops off at $549.

All these tax increases assume the rate of inflation stays the same. Starting on June 1, 2016, annual water rates can be adjusted upwards, based on the previous year’s rate of inflation. However, any such annual increase in the water rate is capped at 105 percent of the previous year’s rate.

For more housing news, visit Don DeBat is co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” the ultimate survival guide for condominium living. Visit

“The book is Escaping Condo Jail by Sara Benson and Don DeBat. I would say that anybody thinking about buying a condo, or even anybody serving on a condo board, or anybody who has any connection to a condo, this is must reading—all 600 and something pages. Thanks a lot for a great book!”


Steve Sanders, “Your Money Matters” WGN TV, December 22, 2014

By Don DeBat

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