'It's like being foreclosed on;' Read Oak Park homeowners' stunning comments on their property tax bills
"I now pay 50% more on property tax monthly than my mortgage."
"Our taxes have doubled since moving here in 2008, which has outpaced our income. Will need to get another job or move out of Oak Park."
"After 46 years in Oak Park my wife and I are being forced out by the high property taxes. So sad to go. Taxes jumped $3,000, income jumped $0."
More than 100 Oak Park residents shared stories of woe and desperation over property taxes they say are pricing them out of the village they love, but can no longer afford.
The comments were solicited by the village's new "Taxing Body Efficiency" task force, started in February to identify "redundant or inefficient" public services that "impact" property taxes.
A January analysis by West Cook News found that local government and school district spending in Oak Park has more than doubled over the past four decades, adjusted for inflation, while population and school enrollment have fallen.
The effect: tax bills in Oak Park have grown to more than twice the national average, an effective rate of 2.81 percent of home value, or $9,267 on a median-priced home of $330,000.
Such bills, coupled with falling home prices, are forcing droves of Oak Parkers to move, as even the mortgage-free cannot afford to keep the homes for which they paid.
Progressives against property taxes?
When it comes to "progressivism," residents of the so-called "People's Republic of Oak Park" rank among Illinois'-- and America's-- most vociferous.
More than 90 percent of Village of Oak Park voters picked Democrat Hillary Clinton over Republican Donald J. Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
That's after 47 percent voted for her socialist opponent, Bernie Sanders, in the Democrat primary.
But even progressives, apparently, have their limits when it comes to property taxes.
From April 30 to May 13, Oak Park homeowners were asked to answer the question-- "How have property tax levels impacted you?"
Responses flooded in from residents of all ages and life stages.
Among the most poignant comments came from elderly or retired Oak Parkers.
"(High tax) takes away our ability to enjoy our retirement at every increase," wrote Raymond Muccianti, 69, of the 600 block of North Marion. "Our income does not keep up with village expenses."
"When I bought my house, my taxes were 4% of my income. Now my taxes are over 50% of my gross income," wrote Neal Buer, 69, of the 800 block of South Kenliworth. "When you retire, your income drops but taxes keep going up. At some point, you have to leave. It’s like being foreclosed on."
"After 46 years in Oak Park, my wife and I are being forced out by the high property taxes," wrote Ingo Schaefer, 66, of the 1100 block of South Euclid. "So sad to go. Taxes jumped $3,000, income jumped $0."
"My taxes have gone from $9,600 to over $32,000. It doesn’t even matter what time frame this represents, it’s out of control," wrote Lisa Mulligan, 60, of the 600 block of Euclid. "I am a fiscally responsible resident, have always lived within my means which sometimes means making tough choices. I have improved my property and improved my community. Now, you are essentially telling me that I need to leave my home and community."
Mulligan wrote that "in my neighborhood, this is the single most talked about topic, with generally everyone in disbelief and disgust."
Oak Parker Kitty Conklin started a Facebook group, "Oak Park Property Tax Watch," last October that has grown to 930 members.
She expressed pessimism that Oak Park elected officials will stop raising taxes.
"We are moving out of Oak Park and will be selling our two flat along with our primary home," Conklin wrote. "I have studied the tax situation for the last year and do not believe the rate of tax increase will slow, we are throwing in the towel.
"In 2005, when we moved into Oak Park, we expected to die here. We are choosing to get out while we can."
Younger Oak Park residents shared Conklin's sentiment, complaining that property taxes are already higher than they can afford.
"We have looked to buy a house outside of Oak Park, even though we love to live here, simply because our taxes have become $20k a year," wrote Ben DeBruin, 36, of the 1200 block of North East Avenue "This amount of a tax bill is insane for a house we barely paid over $500k for 5 years ago."
Brett Patterson, 49, of the 100 block of Clinton, wrote that he has sold his house and is moving to Naperville.
"While it is not as close to the city and does not have the walkability that we enjoy in Oak Park, the savings cannot be ignored," he wrote. "I am getting the same size house for 20% less and a tax savings of over $10,000 a year.
"On top of that, the taxes in Naperville only increase about $200-500 a year, much better than the $900-1,000 in Oak Park. We are sad to leave Oak Park and have enjoyed our time here, but spending as much on my taxes as my mortgage is not acceptable."
Chris Rockey, 48, of the 400 block of North Scoville, was one of many commenters who said they plan to move "immediately" once their children graduate from high school.
"Our residential taxes have more than tripled in the 15 years since we purchased our home," Rockey wrote. "This impacts us greatly by not allowing us to save sufficient funds for our children's education, nor our retirement. We have had to forego maintenance on our residence which further diminishes the value in combination with the high taxes."
Alan Reed, 49, of the 800 block of Wesley, has lived in Oak Park since 1993 and says he plans to move in 2022, when his youngest graduates from Oak Park and River Forest High School (OPRF).
"We have remained in a smaller home than we can afford in an attempt to stay in this community and to manage costs overall, but especially taxes which are now higher than our mortgage," Reed wrote. "The tax grab mentality of the school districts and taxing bodies is unlikely to stop. Staying here requires too great a sacrifice long term in large part because of ever increasing taxes — there seems to be no tax increase that won’t be passed here."
"The taxes on our humble three-bedroom, 99-year-old bungalow were $5,000 when we moved here in 2006. They just topped $13,000 and show no sign of stopping," wrote Carolyn Cullen, 51, of the 900 block of South Grove.
"We had hoped to live in Oak Park indefinitely but are now wondering if our many friends who will move to Forest Park or Berwyn when their kids are out of OPRF aren't on the right track. Sad to say."
"After living in Oak Park for the past 24 years, my wife, Marcia, and I will be moving out of the village this summer," wrote Lorne Frank, 52, of the 1100 block of Grove. "Our 2017 tax bill will be shy of $17,000, and in a few years it will most certainly be $20,000+.
"We always envisioned our current home full of grandkids; but sadly it won't be this house, and it won't be Oak Park."