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The 'Fiscal Cliff' Facing Geneva

News Analysis: Recent articles indicate property values are declining, foreclosures are on the rise and a tax base is shrinking, while local government continues to collect more.

As Washington pundits and politicians debate a federal "fiscal cliff" at the end of the year, Genevans may be facing a similar crisis without realizing it: the one-two punch of declining property values and increasing property tax demands by local government.

Anecdotal evidence and recent articles hint that at least some Genevans are being taxed out of their homes.

An excellent article in Sunday's Daily Herald points out some staggering numbers, and the headline is more than enough to capture your attention: "Local property tax levies up $3.5 billion since '05."

That number again: $3.5 billion.

Meanwhile, the average price of a Geneva home fell by 23.8 percent year over year for the month of October. Obviously, that's just one month, but the drop is significant and the statistic most likely is related to foreclosures. As evidence, all you need to do is look at a local newspaper to see pages filled with foreclosure notices.

Presently, the Yahoo! homes website shows 115 Geneva homes in foreclosure.

Couple that with the unsettling news that Geneva's tax base is shrinking. According to the city of Geneva website, the EAV for Geneva was $971 million in 2011. That's down from $1.037 billion in 2010—about a 6.3 percent drop.

Geneva's EAV high point, in 2008, was $1.146 billion. So in four years, the value of property in Geneva dropped by more than 15 percent.

Back in January, city officials were extremely concerned when they found out that the Equalized Assessed Value of property in Geneva's downtown—in Special Services Area No. 1 to be exact—dropped by a whopping 25.7 percent in just two years and the downtown as a whole was down 15 percent. The good news is that city officials have said in recent months that those numbers have started to rebound significantly.

School District 304, which has a larger footprint than the city of Geneva, has seen a similar drop in EAV, as shown on its website. The EAV went from $1.48 billion in 2008 to an estimated $1.3 billion in 2012.

What have state and local taxing bodies done in reaction to this sea change in property values? According to the Daily Herald and other sources, they've asked for more money.

This year, School District 304 passed a resolution seeking a 1.5 percent tax levy increase. The city of Geneva staff has recommended seeking the full 3 percent levy increase allowed under tax cap legislation.

Sunday's Daily Herald cover story didn't break down Geneva tax levies specificially. But it did indicate that Kane County taxing bodies levied $271 million more in 2010 than they did in 2005.

A year ago, Geneva Patch selected as the No. 2 story of the year, "Property Taxes Rise as Economy Flounders," and suggested that the issue would be "Geneva's greatest challenge of 2012."

There is every indication this local "fiscal cliff" will be the greatest challenge of 2013, as well.

Bob McQuillan November 28, 2012 at 02:16 AM
Excellent article. Even those not in danger of losing their home need to understand what is happening in their own quaint, lovely Geneva. Last night less than 15 people attended the school board meeting where 4 people spoke about the proposed tax levy. Even with a 1.5% tax levy, the district will get more revenue next year than they received this year. A 0% tax levy also generates more money than last year. We will have 53 million dollars in reserve as of June 30, 2013. Why in the world does the district need more money every year? Enrollment is actually declining - we have 124 less students that the 2008-09 school year. All this activity and information is being shared and there are only 5 comments on three articles posted just today. Unless we stop this madness, it will continue. There is no incentive for any taxing body to reduce their tax levy. The school district approves their tax levy on December 10th at 7 pm. Waiting until May to complain about your increasing property taxes is too late. E-mail the board or attend a meeting. The school district alone is 70% of our tax dollars. board@geneva304.org
Jen Marsh November 28, 2012 at 03:04 AM
I agree...I think more than a few of us felt the sting from the GEA contract negotiations. Such a nasty process. I will write the board and ask for 0% levy.
Rich Hayhurst November 28, 2012 at 05:51 AM
I've done brief survey via Zillow.com taking a look at property tax trends on homes, in other states, relative to declining home values. In the three states I've reviewed, all of them show that declining property values correlate to a decline in actual taxes charged to the dwelling. Iillinois allows our public sector (schools, city, library, unions etc) to raise taxes (and their paychecks) regardless of the economic conditions in which homeowners find themselves. Our local governments can raise taxes, at a time when other states are compelled, probably by law, to lower theirs. The good news is that if homeowners reach a tipping point in their frustration with these taxes, they will become involved, and seek better representation from their local public sector agencies. Good government requires an active and knowledgeable citizenry. A rather apathetic citizenry such as we have in Geneva (15% voter turnout in our last local election), really has very little cause to complain about their tax bills. I applaud the Patch and TaxFacts for their efforts to raise awareness.
Jay Moffat November 28, 2012 at 04:26 PM
Jen, I would ask that you and anyone else ask for a levy that freezes the dollars not a 0% levy. The tax levy math is very complicated and a 0% levy actually gives CUSD 304 $1,208,754 more in revenue than they received for the 2012-13 school year. The 0% increase levy shows CUSD 304 receiving $62,487,631 for the 2013-14 school year while they received $61,278,877 for the 2012-13 school year. Please email the board@geneva304.org requesting a levy of no greater than $61,278,877.
John R November 29, 2012 at 02:55 PM
It was surprising that the turnout was so low for the last school board meeting. How quickly we went from two hundred plus to a handful. Granted the teachers attending during negotiations inflated numbers it's still a bit discouraging that so many checked out of the process so quickly. I'd encourage everyone to engage the process. Regardless of your position the board needs to hear the voices of the community. As Rick mentioned pretty much every taxing body is looking at increasing the levy. This community needs to address these issues and figure out what we want our community to look like. If cuts to D304 are necessary then we have to figure out what our priorities are going to be. If our park district needs to cut back then we need to give them input. We all need to start considering these issues and then address them in a responsible and reasonable manner. John Rice

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