On Nov. 27, Rock Island County board members narrowly approved an 11.9 percent increase in the county’s property tax levy, passing by margin of 10-8. Four council members attended the meeting by phone but did not have the ability to vote, while two others were absent, according to the Dispatch-Argus.
County Administrator Jim Snider estimated that a Rock Island County resident with a $100,000 home will pay around $33 more a year, according to the Dispatch-Argus. Snider said the increase is intended to make up for a nearly $500,000 shortfall in the county’s general fund.
Despite the levy hike, however, the budget’s overall deficit had remained over $4.5 million, according to the Dispatch-Argus. However, Snider told NPR that the county has since balanced its budget after cutting positions, postponing projects and dipping into reserve funds.
Police and fire pension payments are also a concern for local governments in the county, according to NPR. A new state law requires all municipal pension systems to be 90 percent funded by 2040. Geneseo, Norridge, Peoria, Rockford and Chicago each face pension crises.
The county held a Truth in Taxation hearing, where several community members spoke out against the property tax increase, according to the Dispatch-Argus. One attendee told county leaders he owns property in both Rock Island County and Scott County, Iowa. Taxes on the Rock Island property are “significantly higher,” the attendee said, raising the concern that overtaxed Illinoisans may leave the Illinois border county for Iowa.
That concern is grounded in reality: Just like the state as a whole, Rock Island County has had difficulties attracting and retaining residents in recent years. Might a heavy property tax burden be putting up red flags?
Illinois has been losing the border war with Iowa for years. In the Quad Cities, the Illinois side of the Mississippi River is shrinking, and the Iowa side is growing. This divergence is driven mainly by Rock Island County’s heavy net loss of residents to other counties. Meanwhile, Scott County has seen a net gain of residents from other counties.
The average effective property tax rate in Scott County was 1.64 percent in 2017, according to ATTOM – more than 35 percent lower than Rock Island County’s 2.56 percent average that year. This disparity in the effective property tax rate echoes earlier data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Beyond property taxes, consumer finance website WalletHub found in a 2018 report that when adjusting for cost of living, the median household in Iowa faced a lower total state and local tax burden than the median household in Illinois.
Unfortunately, members of the General Assembly have been unwilling to tackle a number of substantial reforms at the state level to reduce property tax bills.
Unfunded pension liabilities are a driving force behind Illinois’ high property taxes. The state’s only responsible long-term option for delivering property tax relief is through meaningful pension reform that starts with a constitutional amendment to allow changes to unearned, future pension benefits.
Until Springfield takes steps toward making the Land of Lincoln more attractive for families and businesses, Rock Island County homeowners will continue to endure a more brutal property tax climate than their neighbors on the other side of the Mississippi River.