Tag Archives: taxes

Property taxes: Crazy like the weather

It’s a rite of spring.

No, not the first robin sighting (though I started seeing the orange-breasted beauties a couple of weeks ago).

No, not the first lawn mowing (check! I completed that at our house on Saturday).

Nope, not the first day one wears shorts (haven’t experienced that milestone yet).

I’m talking about property tax bills.

Ours arrived in the mail Saturday.

It’s sort of a good news/bad news situation.

The good news is the bill is only 66 cents higher than last year.

The bad news is the fair cash value of the house is down 15.5% from two years ago, and the “assessed value” (meaning: the value only the assessor understands) of our house went down 8.72% since last year.

So, wait; the value of my house is down but my taxes are up? To be clear, “up” 66 cents isn’t much and it certainly could be worse. But if my house is worth less, shouldn’t I be paying less tax?

Nope. The county commissioners make sure of that when they set the “multiplier” (i.e. “tax rate”). Just because my house is worth less doesn’t mean they want to take a pay cut. This is a government we’re running here, not a business, you silly girl!

Well, nothing is certain but death and taxes. I’m not surprised by my bill.

Nor am I surprised that fully 62.9% of my bill went to the public school system. No. 2 in line? The community college system which collects 5.9% of the property tax I pay. I value education so, conceivably, these are reasonable.

Infuriatingly, however, there are eight — eight! — different entities collecting property taxes for pensions:

  • Kane County (which presumably includes the guys in charge of the “multipler”).
  • Kane Forest Preserve.
  • Hampshire Township.
  • Hamphire Township Road District.
  • Hampshire Village.
  • School District 300.
  • Elgin College 509.
  • Ella Johnson Library.

(For the uninitiated, pensions in Illinois are a sore subject. Here’s the short version: Public pensions are underfunded. This makes the pensioners mad because they were promised pensions; it makes tax payers mad because they don’t want to pay to fix problems, ahem, I mean fulfill promises previous politicians made. And those of us who work in the private sector are appalled at those who work in the public sector who retire in their 40s to collect a pension and then take another public sector position, thereby double-dipping on the public dime. Which is underfunded.)

In total, 3.5% of my property tax bill goes to pensions of one sort or another. This drives me crazy.

Which is perfect. Because spring in general with all its record-making weather has been crazy-making this year anyway, wouldn’t you say?

It’s D day: Diaries, drunks and dishes

Nov. 8, 1985

Dear Diary,

Tuesday night I made a big mistake. Todd & Rick and Jim (Todd’s friend) came over here drunk and even though I had a chem test the next day, they managed to convince me to get drunk. Bad news. I drank whiskey (and even yet I shiver thinking about it) and wine cooler. I got so drunk that I puked in the sink on the fourth floor of Indy dorm. I’m still catching sh*t about that. I don’t know what I would have done if it wasn’t for Rick. He took care of me.

Wednesday I bombed my chem test and felt sick all day.

Diary Week wouldn’t be complete without an embarrassing disclosure, right? And everyone loves a good drunk story, right?

Chirp, chirp.

Just in case I someday run for president, I feel compelled to tell you that was my first drunken escapade and hangover. I was almost 19 (and it was legal to drink at 19 back then), and college freshmen experiment — sometimes foolishly — with freedom. In the immortal words of Bill Clinton, “I didn’t inhale and never tried it again.”


Enough with the excuses.

I’m still embarrassed about puking in that dorm kitchen sink. What a disgusting discovery some other poor freshman made the next morning. I’m so sorry, Anonymous Frosh.

I don’t tell this story on Diary Week to expose my own alcoholic naiveté but to make a connection to dirty dishes.

They’re a major pain in the neck even when you’re not hung-over and when they’re not covered in vomit.

Which is why I’m thankful for dishwashers.

And my husband.

Are you following me?

Chirp, chirp.

We got a new dishwasher today!

And get this: When it was delivered, it was covered in puke!

Just kidding!

That’s not the connection.

What’s more amazing about the dishwasher’s delivery is that Tyler ordered it on Amazon on Wednesday, and it was delivered — right to our kitchen — this morning. All for the low, low price of $329. No sales tax, and thanks to Tyler’s Prime membership, no shipping. Yup, we’re among those people who are cheating local businesses by buying items online and shifting the tax burden to brick-and-mortar companies who are required to charge sales tax (read more about this phenomenon here, discovered on the Star Trib’s opinion page earlier this week). I guess that makes me a drunk and my Beloved a tax evader.

I mentioned to a friend that Amazon delivered our dishwasher right to our kitchen, and she wryly noted, “Your husband must be capable of installing a dishwasher, huh?”

Yup. This guy has the tools to make, install, repair or clean just about anything.

Except the toilet. He doesn’t clean toilets.

Like a good plumber, though, he does have the cliché crack.

Still, I’m not complaining. No one was electrocuted and nothing was flooded in the making of this installation.

And now, all the dishwasher racks roll smoothly, no plastic pieces pop off the racks unexpectedly, the silverware gets clean and we don’t have to turn up the TV to hear over the jet-engine-level dishwasher operation. Whoopee!

Let’s celebrate with a drink.

Just kidding!

Check that out: No puddles of water (or puke) after the new dishwasher is installed.

A letter to the teachers union

Dear District 300 teachers union,

I appreciate the hard work you do. Educating our youth today is not an easy job, and it’s important. It’s important to the health of our families and to the economic health of our country. I appreciate the abuse you take on a daily basis just to teach a kid how to read, how to do algebra and how the North triumphed over the South in the Civil War.

I’m writing you today to implore you to step back a minute and look at your current squabbles with the  school board from my perspective. To be clear, you’re not locked in tough negotiations with the school board — you’re locked in tough negotiations with me — your average property taxpayer in the school district. The thousands of dollars I pay every year in property taxes are entrusted to the school board to spend judiciously, so when the board is demanding concessions from you, it’s because they have to answer to me.

People like me — your friends and neighbors in this community — have been victims of the American economy during the past three years. While the teachers in the teacher’s union were collecting 3% pay increases in 2008-2010, folks like us were taking pay cuts, losing our jobs and foreclosing our homes. The economy has sucked … the wind out of our sales and the value out of our homes.

Don’t get me wrong. Sure, I think you deserve to get a raise. But the fact is, so do I. And I haven’t gotten one in three years. And I’m now doing the work of three people. It’s how the world works right now in this economy.

As far as I know, the administration and the unions representing other staff members have already taken wage freezes or cuts, benefits reductions and other cuts. From what I read in the newspaper, the teachers union and the school board are $83,000 apart in concessions totalling $4 million. That $90,000 you want for teachers who haven’t received raises in the past year or two because of their position on the salary schedule is a petty point. They should be grateful they even have a job. I’m sorry they don’t get a raise again this year, but the money just isn’t there. You can’t get blood out of a turnip, and frankly, my house is a big, fat turnip right now with a whole bunch of worthless paper value.

So when you meet with the school board tomorrow for the 10th time since March, please think of me and be reasonable. It is certainly within your rights to hold things up until the 11th hour when your contract is up June 30, but honestly, I think you’re trifling and being short-sighted and frankly, kind of selfish. Make the concessions and then send out a press release on how you did it because you empathize with the rest of us. You’ll earn my respect for taking that stance instead of my resentment for thinking you should somehow be spared the repercussions of a bad economy. We’re in this together.

A District 300 tax payer

The high price of mobility

It won’t be long before Americans scrutinize every gas-guzzling trip to the drug store, pet food store and Thai restaurant.

We ran a few errands this afternoon to such locations, burning up about three gallons of gasoline on our 60-mile round-trip jaunt. One of our stops: The gas station for a fill-up. It cost $70.30 to pump 17.2 gallons — $4.09 a gallon.

Three weeks ago, I paid $3.63 a gallon — almost $8 less to fill the tank.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I live in a household with an above average income, and I don’t commute to work. Eight bucks a tank (or twice that when you compare to gas prices just two months ago) adds up pretty fast when you’re filling your tank twice a week.

Be alerted: BP announces its first-quarter financial results on April 27.

It’s not just the price of the gasoline that’s painful. Of that $70.30 I paid today, $16.36 — more than 23% — went to various governments:

  • $6.78 to the state of Illinois in the form of gas tax and $3.88 in the form of sales tax.
  • $3.16 to the federal government.
  • $2.02 to the local government (Palatine, Ill., where we filled up, has one of the country’s highest sales tax rates thanks to Cook County).
  • $0.52 to the underground storage tank fund.

Gas prices at more than $4 a gallon will force me to think twice about superfluous trips and required ones, too.

Do you know where your tax money goes?

It’s that time of year.

When we curse politicians and how they’re spending our money.

Tax time.

Americans pay 10% to 35% of their income to Washington, D.C. — the more you earn, the more you pay. The average American household income is $50,000 (2008 U.S. Census); that income level pays 15% in federal taxes or the equivalent of $7,500 a year.

That’s a lot of money, and I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t prefer to pay less. We should be interested in how that money is being spent, but I saw a CNN report yesterday that shows we’re woefully uninformed.

Quick, what is the biggest expense in the federal budget?

No, not pork. It’s Medicare (health care for old people) and Medicaid (health care for low-income families and children) at 20.1% of the federal budget. Social Security is a separate expense at 20%.

Third biggest expense? No, not Obamacare. It’s national defense at 19.3%.

That means 60 cents of every dollar you pay in federal taxes is going to hospitals, doctors and drug companies to care for old people and poor people; defense contractors and soldiers.

When Tea Partiers talk about limiting the federal government, I hear them harping on international aid (actually 1.7% of the federal budget), food stamps (2.8%)  and support for National Public Radio and public television (less than 0.1%).

If we cut those miniscule programs to zero, it was save the average American household about $345 a year.

Interested in how Washington is spending your tax money? There’s a great visual at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget — click on “Explore the Budget.”

And while we’re talking politics, let’s look at the opportunities to earn that income. Wouldn’t you rather be employed and paying taxes than unemployed?

The unemployment rate went down to 8.8% in December, down from just over 10% in late 2009.The highest rate during my working career? Nearly 11% of workers were unemployed in 1983 under President Ronald Reagan. Lowest? Less than 4% in 2000 under President Bill Clinton.

While I’m not thrilled to be paying drug companies for all that ridiculous advertising or defense contractors to build better tanks, I am grateful to be employed and grateful that unemployment is dropping so more people can join me in complaining at tax time.

Interstate highways unite us

As embarrassingly ineffective as some of America’s systems have proven to be — public education, for example, and airport security — our interstate highway system is a wonder to behold.

Having observed no fewer than a dozen different interstate highways in nine different states in the past three months, I’m wowed by this 55-year-old system of “wide, gently curved roads that form the backbone of commerce and invite travelers to cross the country in search of adventure,” according to map maker Rand McNally.

Name almost any two major cities in the United States, and you’ll find a system of interstate highways connecting them.

The standards for the interstate are 12-foot-wide lanes, 10-foot-wide paved right shoulders, 4-foot-wide paved left shoulders and curves to accommodate speeds of 50-70 mph. I have found they are not always this way, especially in Dallas, Texas and though the mountains between Atlanta and Nashville, but for the most part, they are dependably consistent.

The system began with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who drew three north-south lines and three east-west lines across a U.S. map and asked the Bureau of Public Roads to build it, according to Rand McNally in my trusty U.S. atlas to which I referred hundreds of times while navigating recently from the passenger-side seat of our motor home. President Dwight D. Eisenhower funded the vision with the signing of the Federal Aid Highway Act in 1956.

Did you know … ?

  • Even-numbered interstate highways (such as 90 and 94) are east-west routes.
  • Odd-numbered interstates (such as 35 and 39) are north-south.
  • Three-digit signs beginning with an even number route through or around a city.
  • Three-digit signs beginning with an odd number indicate a spur into a city.

The interstate highway system are an effective example of your federal tax dollars at work. No one person could build such a system by himself; together, we’ve created a network to bring us goods and speed our travel. There may be no “I” in team, but thanks to us teaming together, we have a great interstate system.

Our tax dollars at work

Thanks to the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, Hampshire’s downtown has new asphalt.

It’s taken a couple of months (and a number of detours), but State Street is now newly paved and looking fine.

On both ends of the main street are signs touting the funding source: the federal government. Our tax dollars at work (or, at least, standing around getting paid).  According to www.recovery.gov, the Recovery Act has three immediate goals:

  1. Create new jobs and save existing ones.
  2. Spur economic activity and invest in long-term growth.
  3. Foster unprecedented levels of accountability and transparency in government spending.

No. 3 sounds like a bunch of mumbo jumbo to me, but at least they have a decent website.

If I’m reading the internet information correctly, this Hampshire project cost $659,972. I don’t know how many people were employed because of it or how long they were employed, but a number of people were definitely involved in the short-term, at least.

Construction was, well, inconvenient, but the street now looks darn nice, and it’s nice not to have to dodge the manholes.

Superfluous construction, perhaps, but I’d rather see my tax dollars spent in my hometown than on bombs to be dropped on poor, unsuspecting Afghans. Here’s to American R&R!

You wanna live long and prosper? Spend money on space, not war

Depending on your view of taxes in general, and on Obama in general and on space exploration in general, you were either cheered or enraged to hear Obama say this week we’re going to invest in NASA and start sending astronauts to asteroids by 2025 … to boldly go where no one has gone before (you Trekkers get it, right?).

Wow! That sounds like a Hollywood blockbuster, only it’ll cost a little more. Well, a lot more. About $17 or $18 billion (that’s with a b) a year (James Cameron’s “Avatar” cost only $280 million (with an m)).

My Beloved thought he heard we were sending astronauts to an asteroid headed for earth, but no, we’re sending astronauts to some random asteroid just in case some asteroid in the future is headed to earth; that way, we’ll know what we’re doing to land on one (and, presumably, blow it to smithereens). Being an insurance salesman, he should appreciate such an insurance policy. There are, afterall, 1,111 “potentially hazardous asteroids” hurtling through space right now.

Seventeen or $18 billion is an awful lot of money, huh? I think it’s really a jobs program to keep all those space cadets in Florida employed. But hey, I’ve heard of worse jobs programs. Like, how about spending trillions on unemployment payments paid to people who spend more time on the couch making up excuses rather than looking for a job? OK, some of them are legitimately unemployed, but you’re kidding yourself if you believe some people don’t milk the system. At least those NASA guys (and gals) are working.

And I certainly appreciate all the inventions credited to our space program: Tang and Velcro come to mind. I don’t really like Tang, but someone does.  Now they’re working on air purifying systems and ways to turn urine into drinkable water (now that’s tangy!), but those inventions could come in handy when our internal combustion engines finally choke all oxygen out of our atmosphere and we drain our natural aquifers.

You want to complain about a real waste of money? How about what we spend on war? Yeah, we spent about $184 billion in 2008 on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (for the record, that was the last year of the (in)famous Bush presidency). We’ll spend a bit less in 2010 — about $139 billion. But that’s still almost eight times what we’ll spend on NASA. And what kind of inventions do we get out of Middle East wars? Better machine guns and tanks. Maybe. If they were that much better, we’d have won the wars by now, don’t you think? I think we just get smarter enemies. In the end, war is just a jobs program, too, only the benefits of post-traumatic stress disorder and missing limbs (not to mention lives) for our soldiers aren’t as appealing as the perks of living in Florida for those NASA employees.

Maybe we should work a bit harder on promoting world peace before we huff and puff about the money spent on space exploration.

Now that would be bold.

Not everyone loves a parade, I guess

Coon Creek Country Days — the highlight of the summer in this little hamlet — has been cancelled this year for lack of funds and lack of volunteers.

It’s your typical small town festival with a parade, greasy (but delicious) food vendors in the park and rock bands so loud you can hear them across town. In the grand scheme of things, Coon Creek Days epitomized small-time. But in Hampshire, it was the biggest weekend of the summer.

In my short time here, I’ve already made Coon Creek memories. We moved into our house during Coon Creek Days in 2007. My brother- and sister-in-law always have a party in their back yard during Coon Creek Days because they have such a great view of the fireworks. I ran in the Coon Creek Days 10K last summer — the first race since my marathon in 2006 that I’ve put any effort into.

Granted, I haven’t bothered to volunteer to help, and apparently none of my neighbors have either. I did, however, vote for the park district referendum in February. Apparently, not enough of my neighbors agreed with me because that tax vote went down in flames, and the park district tried to close their budget gap by charging the Coon Creek Days committee $3,000 to use the park — a price the committee decided it couldn’t stomach.

This is exactly the type of thing I willing to pay for when I pay my taxes. I can’t buy roads or teachers or national defense — or Coon Creek Days — by myself, but I contribute a little bit with my taxes (and so does everyone else), and so I enjoy the benefits of big projects.

It’s a hard lesson, but the old saying is true: You get what you pay for.

And you don’t get what you don’t pay for.

I’ll miss you this year, Coon Creek Days.

How much does your kid’s teacher get paid?

Some parents attend their kid’s football games.

Some parents read the school district’s annual report.

I am not attending Caswell’s football game an hour away from home tomorrow; Tyler’s on that. But I did review District 300’s annual report.

As I was reviewing the pretty-much glowing report, the staff profile page caught my eye. As a former reporter who sat through hours-long school board meetings long ago, I was familiar with such statistics. For instance:

  • District 300 (which has three high schools) employs 481 secondary teachers.
  • The majority of teachers have a master’s degree plus 30 credit hours (and, conveniently, tuition reimbursement is part of the fringe benefits).
  • Average years of teaching experience: 10.27.
  • More than 93% of teachers in the district are white, which is higher than the state average and much, much higher than the percentage of students in the district who are white (61.2%).
  • Student to teacher ratio at the secondary level: 21 students for every teacher.

Something was missing, however, to this reporter’s eye: Salaries. Small print said, “Staff Salaries and Benefits: To view the contracts for each of D300’s employee groups, click here. [This link was updated 6/25/13 with the most current contract; the numbers recorded in this blog were current in 2009].

OK. So I did.

I had to download an 8.52 MB document with 155 pages. I don’t suppose a lot of tax payers are going this far, but I’m willing to make sacrifices for my blog (in the name of public information). I know teachers and administrators really don’t like this at all — that their salaries are public information, but they are paid with public tax money. District 300 wasn’t making it easy to get.

The index sent me to the wrong page for salary schedules, and when I found the right page, it references an appendix. When I finally found the appendix, I learned a teacher with a master’s degree and 30 credit hours with 10 years experience is paid $58,446 (that’s the “gross amount of actual pay” not including retirement). That’s a 3% pay increase over last year. I’m not sure even teachers merit a pay raise in this economy — I took a 10% pay cut in the past year — but that’s the value of teacher unions, I guess.

By the way, I also learned an assistant football coach (from whom Caswell derives direct benefit) is paid $3,837 to $4,780 a year, depending on his experience.

So, I looked at my property tax statement to see how much of a teacher I paid for. I paid $4,231.28 in property taxes to District 300 in tax year 2008 (couldn’t find my 2009 bill). That’s 7.2% of one teacher. Of course, according to the student : teacher ratio, Caswell is getting only 4.7% of a teacher, so I’m not getting my money’s worth, but that’s the drawback of having a big house and a lot of District 300 overhead, I guess.

For the most part, I think public education is a good deal. Even when I didn’t have a child who was benefiting from public education, I knew schools were educating the next generation and keeping them busy (so they weren’t vandalizing my property and stealing from me). I would never, in a million years, be able to keep 21 kids interested in anything (except possibly sex education, but that class opens all sorts of other problems in discipline), so I’m grateful for teachers.

But I’m not sure they deserved a raise this year, when so many people lost jobs, took pay cuts and saw the value of their homes plummet. Just my two cents.