Calculation error affects Tax Increase Referendum Votes in ten Cook County communities

Ballot language underestimates amount of tax increase by as much as 70% in some cases

Cook County – A slew of referendum appearing on ballots across suburban Cook County next month will present voters with inaccurate information about the degree to which the referendum could cause their property taxes to rise, according to the Cook County Township Assessors Association.

Each district used an identical, but flawed formula to calculate the amount of the property tax increase–and with the April 5 election less than three weeks away, there is not enough time to correct the language that will appear on ballots.  

Voters in Oak Forest, Lansing, Oak Park, Olympia Fields, Palos Fire District, Prospect Heights, Riverside, Brookfield, West Northfield School District, Wilmette and Wheeling are all preparing for referendum votes that are affected by the miscalculation. The law firm of Chapman and Cutler, and perhaps other firms that contracted with districts to draft referendum language, used the flawed formula.  

“In drafting the terms of the referendum, the drafters did not factor in the state equalizer in their property tax increase equation,” ElSaffar said. The state equalizer is a number that the Illinois Department of Revenue determines each year to ensure that Cook County assessments are in line with assessments from across the state.

“As the state equalizer in Cook County more than triples assessments, failing to account for it significantly understates the real impact of each referendum on citizens,” said ElSaffar.

The ballot measures generally call for a property tax increase to bolster local school districts and park districts. In Oak Park, for example, the ballot language asks voters to approve a tax increase for local schools of about $37.40 for every $100,000 in a home’s market value. But according to Oak Park Township Assessor Ali ElSaffar, who also serves as President of the Cook County Township Assessors’ Association, the ballot language underestimates the tax increase by as much as 70 percent.   
 These figures would have appeared on the other ballots had the standard formula been used:

The Cook County Treasurer uses a standard formula for determining property taxes, which appears on all 1.9 million tax bills in the County.

Had the standard Cook County tax formula been used in Oak Park, the ballot measure would have told voters that the tax increase would be $126.04 for every $100,000 in a home’s market value.

ElSaffar, President of the Cook County Township Assessors’ Association is available to speak with the media.

District                                                 Tax Increase per $100,000               Tax increase using standard
                                                              in value as per ballot                        Cook County formula

Prospect Heights School District 23     $35.00                                                 $117.95
Oak Park School District 97                 $37.40                                                 $126.04
West Northfield School District 31       $49.00                                                $165.13
Wilmette School District 39                  $58.80                                                $198.16
Arbor Park School District 145             $60.00                                                $202.21

Riverside-Brookfield High School
District 208                                            $44.00                                                $148.28
Oak Park District                                   $10.00                                                $33.70

Olympia Fields Park District                 $13.60                                                $45.83
Indian Trails Public Library District
(Cook County only)                              $2.77                                                   $9.34

Palos Fire District                                 $30.40                                                 $64.03

Based on his experience in Oak Park, ElSaffar does not blame the taxing districts for the error. “I believe most of the districts relied on the expertise of experienced lawyers to draft the ballot language. Whoever drafted the language created a glaring problem. So we need to review our approach and ensure that this doesn’t happen again,” he said.

ElSaffar said the goal of calling attention to the mistake is not to undermine the pending referendums, but simply to ensure the voters receive accurate information before casting their vote. “Whether or not voters support the increase in funding for local government is completely up to them,” he said. “But I believe they have a right to accurate information when making that choice.”

Text of Oak Park Ballot Question

Shall the limiting rate under the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law for Oak Park Elementary School District Number 97, Cook County, Illinois, be increased by an additional amount equal to .374% above the limiting rate for any purpose of said School District for levy year 2009 and be equal to 2.600% of the equalized assessed value of the taxable property therein for levy year 2010?

(1) The approximate amount of taxes extendable at the most recently extended limiting rate is $41,049,718, and the approximate amount of taxes extendable if the proposition is approved is $47,946,660.

(2) For the 2010 levy year the approximate amount of the additional tax extendable against property containing a single family residence and having a fair market value at the time of the referendum of $100,000 is estimated to be $37.40.

(3) If the proposition is approved, the aggregate extension for 2010 will be determined by the limiting rate set forth in the proposition, rather than the otherwise applicable limiting rate calculated under the provisions of the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (commonly known as the Property Tax Cap Law).