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Tax rates in DeKalb County vary widely based on services, governments

Published: Friday, June 20, 2014 11:40 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, June 20, 2014 11:54 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Danielle Guerra – dguerra@shawmedia.com)
Earl Hanssen mows the lawn in front of his home Friday at 203 Saint Andrews Drive in DeKalb. Hanssen and his wife, Lynn Hanssen, built the house a little more than five years ago on about a quarter acre of land in the South Pointe subdivision. The Hanssens' tax rate is 13.21 percent.

Gerald Andresen knew his tax rate was low, but he had no idea he had the lowest in DeKalb County.

He owns one of four parcels taxed at DeKalb County’s lowest tax rate of 7.88 percent.

“We kind of figured we can’t live any place cheaper than we can live here,” said Andresen, 67, who has lived in the house on Anderland Road in rural Malta since 1979.

The tax rates are just one component of determining individual tax bills, but they range broadly in DeKalb County from 13.33 percent to 7.88 percent in 2013. The disparity is largely driven by school districts, which comprise the largest portion of the tax rate, and what other taxing bodies, such as park or sanitary districts, govern the area.

School district tax rates drove Andresen’s brother to build the house where he did in 1971. The tax rate from Indian Creek School District 425 was lower than DeKalb School District 428. That holds true today: For 2013 taxes, which property owners are paying this year, District 425’s tax rate is about 5.47 percent, while District 428’s tax rate is 7.82 percent.

District 428 Board President Tracy Williams said the district’s tax rate is higher than some of its neighbors’ because it offers more academic and extracurricular activities than other area school districts.

“I think the proof is in the pudding,” Williams said. “None of the other school districts with lower rates were in the top 10 percent of school districts in the nation.”

As much as Andresen enjoys paying $2,567 in taxes on his 1.5 acre property, living in the country with a low tax rate does have some drawbacks. Andresen has to pay for his own garbage service, an $18 a month expense he splits with his neighbor. He also has to get water from a private well and has a septic system that requires occasional cleaning. What’s more, he isn’t exactly sure what fire department would respond in the case of an emergency.

Whatever costs he incurs that his city counterparts don’t are worth it in Andresen’s eyes.

“If I want to go out and shoot my gun, I can do that,” Andresen said. “If I want to put up a chicken coop, I can do that. It’s a good lifestyle.”

A good lifestyle, some would argue, can be a fortunate side effect of higher tax rates. In communities like Sycamore, Genoa and DeKalb, residents have a park district and a library in return for paying a higher tax rate.

But the benefits of paying more for a school district, a park district or a new library don’t mean much to Earl Hanssen, 54, who lives on Saint Andrews Drive in DeKalb in the taxing district with the second highest rate in the county.

“I don’t usually use those things,” Hanssen said. “I don’t think I personally benefit from it.”

Farmer Ron Fidler, 70, understands how much both tax rates and payments can vary across the county. He and his wife, Deanna, own two parcels along Base Line Road with homes on them and two parcels near Esmond without homes on them.

The Base Line Road parcel with a rental house on it has the distinction of being in the highest property tax rate area in the county, largely because the property falls within the Elgin Community College District. The Elgin Community College rate for 2013 is 2.39 percent, compared to Kishwaukee College’s rate of 0.72 percent. Similarly, Central School District 301 in Burlington has a tax rate of 7.78 percent, compared with Genoa School District 424’s rate of 6.28 percent.

Several years ago, Fidler learned a previous owner had wanted the property to be in the Central School District. Now, he’s paying about $80 an acre for the 108 acre parcel on Base Line Road southeast of Genoa with the rental home. That is much more than the taxes he pays on the farm properties without homes near Esmond: $38.80 an acre for a 67.2-acre parcel and $46.85 an acre for the 40-acre parcel.

The tax rates are becoming a bigger concern as he eyes retirement.

“I really don’t want to sell the farm; I think it’s a great investment for the children,” Fidler said. “But Mother and I, we’ve go to live.”

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