As Property Tax Hike Looms, Officials Expect Surge in Those Who Don’t Pay | Chicago News

A residential road in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood. (WTTW Information)

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has seven extra days to place the ending touches on the plan she is going to present to the Chicago City Council to fill a $799 million funds hole within the 2020 funds and a further projected shortfall of $1.2 billion within the metropolis’s 2021 spending plan.

Lightfoot has warned aldermen they should make painful, tough selections after what she referred to as a “catastrophic collapse” of Chicago’s economic system brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

The shortage of federal help means most observers suppose Lightfoot may have no alternative however to suggest a property tax enhance, a politically perilous and fraught choice.

However buried within the city’s 2021 budget forecast is a warning that the pandemic’s toll on the town’s economic system has been so profound that the town’s strongest software to lift much-needed income has been considerably weakened, no less than within the quick time period.

In a typical yr, roughly 3% of property house owners don’t pay their taxes, in keeping with Chicago officers.

However in 2021, Chicago finance officers challenge that 10% of property house owners gained’t pay their tax payments, which might price the town $65.2 million — accounting for roughly 4% of its projected deficit in 2021.

If that projection is correct, it could rival the drop in property tax collections Chicago recorded in 2009, when the housing market collapsed through the Nice Recession, and 16% of property house owners didn’t pay their tax invoice, in keeping with an evaluation by Sarah Wetmore, the vp and analysis director of the Civic Federation, a funds watchdog group.

Property tax income is often a dependable, secure income for cities and faculty districts, since it’s not tied to enterprise cycles, which may comply with a boom-and-bust sample, Wetmore mentioned.

That has allowed the town to repeatedly pledge future property tax revenues to borrow cash to fund its pensions in addition to main initiatives comparable to road repairs, in keeping with metropolis data.

That predictability is due partly as a result of property house owners who don’t pay their taxes face penalties of 1.5% a month that may flip right into a lien on the property. If the taxes stay unpaid, the property could be offered at a tax sale, in keeping with state regulation. These gross sales have been suspended amid the pandemic.

Meaning the town will ultimately get its cash, Wetmore mentioned. By 2016, the town collected 96% of the 2009 property tax levy — very near the traditional quantity, she added.

“This isn’t one thing to panic about, however it’s a good factor that the town is considering it,” Wetmore mentioned.

Additionally it is doable that the town’s projections are too optimistic, and that the economic system will worsen — particularly for many who had been already struggling to make ends meet earlier than the pandemic, Wetmore mentioned.

“There’s loads we don’t find out about how this can play out,” Wetmore mentioned.

Taxes on industrial properties might be hardest hit since companies had been pressured to shut to cease the unfold of COVID-19 and had been solely allowed to reopen in June to serve a restricted variety of prospects.

Lodges and malls are among the many property house owners who didn’t pay their taxes by the Oct.1 deadline, prolonged two months by Prepare dinner County officers, according to Crain’s.

Wetmore’s boss, Laurence Msall, the president of the Civic Federation, warned aldermen on Sept. 21 about imposing new taxes and assuming they might fill Chicago’s funds shortfall.

Due to the town’s “very dire” monetary scenario, any new taxes imposed would have a “minimal impression” due to the excessive charge of unemployment, Msall mentioned.

As a substitute, Msall has urged the mayor to suggest a funds that restructures the best way the town operates to shut the shortfall. Nonetheless, which may be unattainable to learn the town’s 2021 funds, since important operational adjustments would require the approval of the labor unions that symbolize the town’s workforce.

Lightfoot declined to verify reviews that her workplace had requested labor unions representing the town’s 33,000 workers to conform to $200 million in cuts by means of a mixture of layoffs, pay cuts or furloughs to steadiness the funds. 

Lightfoot has indicated she’ll additionally think about the elimination of vacant positions throughout the town — together with within the Chicago Police Division — to steadiness the funds.

The mayor has mentioned her spending plan won’t depend on extra help from the federal authorities. Though President Donald Trump tweeted Oct. 6 that he was ending negotiations with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, he has since called for talks to resume.

“The whole lot needs to be on the desk,” Lightfoot mentioned Tuesday. “The least favored choices are property taxes and layoffs.”

Lightfoot mentioned her administration has requested everybody to assist bridge the hole.

“Some have mentioned sure and stepped up and provided in a lot of other ways,” Lightfoot mentioned. “Others have pushed us away and never been prepared to take part within the discussions.”

Lightfoot promised to craft a “honest and equitable” plan.

Chief Monetary Officer Jennie Huang Bennett has informed members of the Metropolis Council’s Finance Committee that the town should not touch Chicago’s rainy-day fund due to the town’s unsure monetary future — and the truth that nobody is aware of when a vaccine or therapy will finish the coronavirus pandemic.

As well as, Huang Bennett has mentioned she can be reluctant to advocate the town enhance the gross sales tax as a result of Chicago’s levy is among the many highest within the nation and hits poorest Chicagoans the toughest.

Huang Bennett has additionally mentioned that a number of measures lengthy favored by progressive aldermen and teams to lift income — together with a per-employee tax on massive companies and a tax on monetary transactions — would do more to hurt than to help the city’s dire financial condition.

With efforts underway to open a on line casino at a brief location in Chicago sooner or later throughout 2021, Huang Bennett additionally cautioned aldermen to not give the inexperienced gentle to video gaming or sweepstakes machines in Chicago, warning that the video games might have a “cannibalization” impact on revenues the town is relying on from the on line casino and value hundreds of jobs.

Huang Bennett did endorse mountaineering a private property lease tax on computer systems. The town imposes a 9% tax on most leases, however solely a 7% tax on pc leases. The pc lease tax ought to be hiked by 2% to come back in line, Huang Bennett mentioned.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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