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Survey: Morton Grove Has Heaviest Tax Burden

Down the road, Niles residents enjoy the lightest levy load of the 14 communities in annual report.

Morton Grove residents are the most heavily taxed in the northern Chicago suburbs again this year, according to a recently survey, while their neighbors in Niles enjoy the lowest tax burden.

The average Morton Grove household will pay $1,719.89 this year--the most among 14 communities surveyed by the City of Park Ridge--in property and other taxes as well as fees.

Morton Grove also topped last year's survey, which took into account such costs as trash pickup, auto licenses and water and sewer fees.

A news report yesterday erroneously said Morton Grove did not participate in the annual survey, but the information was based on an early version of the report. Morton Grove was late getting its information in and eventually was included.

Residential versus commercial tax base

Having two Walmarts and two Home Depots helps explain why Niles residents aren't burden with trash hauling or sewer fees, while the research found that Morton Grove inhabitants pay nearly $200 for trash and $100 for sewer annually.

“What you must keep in mind is this survey is skewed toward residents,” Ryan Horne, the village's finance director. “Municipalities like Niles are fortunate to have commercial businesses to help subsidize or pay for resident services.”

Niles officials said much the same thing in talking up their place in the survey.

“An efficient government structure, a solid  tax base and a strong sales tax base are the major reasons Niles residents pay less,” Mayor Robert M. Callero said in a statement.

Skewed heavily toward residential rather than commercial or industrial properties, Morton Grove has been adding and raising taxes of all sorts for the past decade.

Getting creative with service taxes

Only Evanston has higher property taxes than Morton Grove--$518 there and $510.80 here for each $40,000 of equalized assessed value. With little room to raise property taxes further, Morton Grove is already using nearly all of the elective service taxes at its disposal--sales, restaurant, liquor, gasoline--and is weighing whether to add another: an amusement tax.

It’s unclear how much the new tax would bring in, said Horne. Evanston gets nearly $300,000 annually from its amusement tax and Schaumburg $1.2 million, according to the survey.

(The complete survey is posted in the media section of this story.)

But Morton Grove doesn’t have any movie theaters or video poker machines, which are the primary targets of the amusement tax. It does have a bowling alley, though, and Horne is investigating whether the tax might .

A proposed haunted house could bring in as much as $10,000 in amusement taxes, the village board learned Monday.

Meanwhile, services provided with those taxes have declined. This year’s budget is so lean it doesn’t include repairs to sidewalks or curbs.

Morton Grove ranked the most efficient town

The leanness of Morton Grove’s government, which has been slashed three years in a row, is supported by another finding in the survey. The town is ranked the most efficient, spending $1,190 for every resident. Niles, which uses taxes to subsidize services such as trash pickup, spends $2,137.34 a resident.

To pay for the most essential services, like the new $250,000 ambulance it just bought, the village supplements general fund revenues with user fees.

People pay taxes so that, in an emergency, they can call 911 and trained paramedics will show up and give them a “lights and siren” ride to the hospital.

But Morton Grove residents also pay either $500 or $700 for that service, depending on how much medical treatment is required. The rate jumps to $650 and $950 for nonresidents.

Although the village is struggling to raise revenues to help balance its budget, it strives to keep user fees average, Horne said.

Tough choices ahead

There may be more tough choices ahead, though, as state lawmakers weigh plans to reduce the state income tax revenue it shares with local municipalities. If it passes, that would leave Morton Grove looking for as much as $1.76 million in staff cuts or new taxes.

Village Administrator Joe Wade said increasing service taxes would likely be on the menu of options he would present to the board of trustees, along with staff cuts in the police and fire departments.

As an example, he mentioned the gasoline tax, which is now 1 cent a gallon, compared with 2 cents in Glenview and 4 cents in Skokie. But it’s higher than neighboring Niles, which has no gasoline tax.

“Certainly no one wants to be on the upper end of a tax,” Horne said. “We don’t want to discourage a new business from locating here, disadvantage an existing business or be overly burdensome of our residents.”

karen erickson May 13, 2011 at 12:45 PM
If Morton Grove's gas tax is lower than Skokie, how come gas is usually cheaper in Skokie? Could it be Morton Grove's gas stations are gouging it's citizens?

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