Cook County Municipalities Face Fiscal Ruin

Published March 12, 2012

MARCH 12, 2012 – An analysis of records obtained from the Cook County Treasurer’s Office reveals property tax collections rose at twice the rate of inflation during the past decade. The author of the analysis warns current trends in government spending are unsustainable and huge tax increases or municipal bankruptcies loom unless structural reforms are made.

The analysis was conducted by John Nothdurft, director of government relations at The Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based nonprofit research organization. It was released at a news conference attended by spokespersons for the Better Government Association, Cook County Treasurer’s Office, and Illinois Policy Institute.

“The average property owner pays 48 percent more in property taxes today than a decade ago, with some home owners seeing triple-digit increases,” reported Nothdurft. “The property tax burden will skyrocket in the next decade, despite stagnant or declining home prices, because of growing public pension and benefit obligations.”

According to Nothdurft’s analysis, from 2000 to 2010:

  • Property taxes collected for all taxing districts in Cook County rose from $7.89 billion to $11.69 billion, an increase of 48 percent. This is twice the rate of inflation during that period.
  • Suburban municipalities increased property taxes by 75 percent, taxing agencies located within the City of Chicago by 44 percent, and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District by 29 percent. Property taxes levied by Cook County government remained flat.
  • School districts, which collect the largest portion of property taxes, increased property taxes by 58 percent. Twenty-seven school districts more than doubled their property taxes in the past decade.

Property tax bills list taxes collected for between 12 and 20 local governments that receive property taxes from property owners each year. The government of Cook County itself accounts for only about 6 percent of the total amount collected.

Andy Shaw, president and CEO of the Better Government Association, said: “This data is a welcome addition to the transparency effort that’s so important in assessing government, and it shows a shocking amount of tax revenue that’s being squeezed out of everyday people during some of the toughest economic times in decades.” He added, “Government is gorging while people are struggling.”

Ted Dabrowski, vice president of policy for the Illinois Policy Institute, said, “While the focus is often on Chicago, this information shows that suburban Cook County taxpayers have been facing increasingly higher property taxes. Significant spending and pension reforms are necessary now to protect taxpayers from the burden of even higher taxes in the future.”

Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas said: “Taxpayers ask me why their tax bill has steadily increased, especially surrounding their school’s tax portion. They can see that the county’s portion of the property tax bill has not increased in over 17 years and that taxation begins at the local level of government. Make no mistake, tax increases can be controlled when property owners understand the real cost to them of local government debt.”


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Additional information and notes:

The Heartland Institute collected public tax records from the Treasurer’s Office using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Heartland acknowledges and thanks the Treasurer’s Office for its cooperation and assistance. The conclusions and interpretations reported here are solely the responsibility of The Heartland Institute.

The current report focuses on levies – the amount of property taxes a government collects from property owners annually. Individual taxpayers face higher or lower rates of change in their tax bills based on many variables.

The increase from 2000 to 2010 in the Consumer Price Index for the Chicago-Gary-Kenosha Area was 22.5 percent according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In addition to the findings reported above, the analysis includes the following information:

  • Year-by-year levies for all 552 taxing districts in Cook County between 2000 and 2010.
  • Percent increase in levies between 2000 and 2010 for all 552 taxing districts.
  • Average percent increase in levies by type of government unit.
  • The 25 taxing jurisdictions with the greatest percentage increase in levies.

The complete analysis can be found online at

For more information, please contact Jim Lakely, communications director, The Heartland Institute, at 312/377-4000 or by email at [email protected].