Homeowners living in Austin say they are not happy with a property tax increase proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to help pay for public pension funds. The increase would be the largest in the city’s history.
Judy Brooks, a 61-year-old retired Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teacher, has lived in Austin her entire life and said she does not want to pay higher taxes for her home on the 5000 block of Jackson Boulevard.
“I understand why the mayor wants to raise property taxes, but I don’t agree with it,” Brooks told the Austin Weekly News. “Long before we got to this pension crisis there should have been a long-term funding plan and apparently that was never done.”
Other homeowners said they should not have to pay for mismanagement at City Hall.
“The Better Government Association reported that the city did not make any pension payments from 1995 to 2011. Where did all that money go if it did not go to fund employee pensions? That’s the question homeowners should be asking their aldermen,” said Howard Bell, 68, who lives in the 3300 block of North Menard Street. “If I do not pay my bills because I mismanaged my money no one else should have to pay for my mistake but me.”
Alderman Emma Mitts (37th), whose West Side ward includes Austin, was unavailable for comment but issued a statement regarding the tax hike.
“I support the mayor’s current proposal because the proposal exempts almost all of the homeowners in the 37th Ward while providing the revenue needed to protect our community from drastic cuts to vital services,” said Mitts. “I believe we should continue to search for new revenue sources but these sources need to include protections for working families in our city and in our ward.”
Not all homes in Austin are valued at $250,000 and less, the threshold needed to be exempted from a property tax increase, said Michelle Williams, 49.
“That’s probably why I did not vote for Alderman Mitts. She is too out of touch with the 37th Ward. My home is appraised for more than $250,000 and there are plenty of brick homes in this ward that are worth $300,000 and more,” contends Williams. “At the end of the day, a bump in property taxes will make it almost impossible for anyone black to own a home in Chicago.”
But without a tax increase, Mayor Emanuel said no one would be able to live in Chicago, because taxes on everything else would have to be dramatically increased to a point where no one could afford it.
“Our city would become unlivable,” Emanuel said during his Sept. 22 budget address to the City Council. “That would be totally unacceptable.”
His 33-minute address included a direct challenge to the city’s 50 aldermen.
“There’s a choice to be made, make no mistake about it. Either we muster the political courage to deal with the mounting challenges we inherited, or we repeat the same practices and allow the financial challenges to grow,” Emanuel said.
The mayor is proposing raising property taxes by $543 million over four years, which includes $318 million in 2016 alone. The tax hike is part of his $7.8 billion budget proposal he unveiled to the City Council last month.
The increased taxes would be used to pay for police and fire pensions. And a separate $45 million property tax hike would go toward construction projects by CPS to ease overcrowding in some neighborhoods like Austin, East Garfield Park and North Lawndale.
Additionally, the mayor is also proposing a new garbage collection fee for owners of single-family homes, duplexes and four-flats. Under the proposal owners would pay $9.50 per dwelling unit per month for garbage-hauling service that currently is covered by other taxes. If passed, the increased fee would be rolled into water bills.
A property tax hike could mean that Millie Owens, a 72-year-old widow, may have to sell her Austin home rather than leave it to her great-grandchildren as part of her will.
“I can’t afford to pay more taxes for this home. It has been in my family for 50 years and now that tradition is threatened with higher taxes,” explained Owens. “Maybe the mayor should have come to Austin and other neighborhoods first and talked to homeowners before making a decision to interrupt our lives and rob the next generation of their inheritance.”