As Macon County shrinks, property tax rates grow
With countywide population dipping, remaining taxpayers in Macon County are being left with an ever-increasing property tax bill.
Residents fleeing should be a rallying cry for tax and spending reforms, but Macon County taxpayers are seeing the opposite.
While more than 1,000 people left Macon County from 2016-2017 for other counties – causing the county’s population to shrink – remaining residents saw their effective property tax rates increase by 37 percent, giving them an effective property rate that was more than double the national average.
Macon County homeowners paid an average property tax bill of more than $2,400 in 2017, for effective property tax rate of 2.45 percent, according to research released April 4 by ATTOM Data Solutions, a property data company. That rate was up from 1.79 percent in 2016. The national average effective property tax rate in 2017 was 1.17 percent.
The county lost 1,009 residents on net to domestic outmigration from 2016-2017, dropping the county population by 850 people in total. Since 2010, the county’s population has dropped by nearly 5,000 people, driven by a net loss of more than 6,000 people to outmigration to other counties.
A great number of the losses come from Decatur, which accounts for a majority of the county’s population.
From 2010-2016, Decatur was Illinois’ fastest shrinking city, seeing its population drop by 3,400, or 4.5 percent. In addition to hiking the city’s property tax levy, local politicians have relied heavily on other tax increases to make up for the population loss, including instituting a food and beverage tax and a gas tax. But with so many residents leaving the city, Decatur finds itself strapped for cash despite all of its nickel and diming. The city passed a budget in December for fiscal year 2018 that was more than $3 million out of balance, with few concrete plans for how to make up the deficit.
To help the city and county rebound, officials in Decatur and Macon County should steer clear of looking at more tax hikes as the answer to financial woes. Instead, residents should demand reforms at the state, county and local level to change course. Decatur, historically a manufacturing hub, would benefit greatly from reforms to Illinois’ unfair and uncompetitive workers’ compensation system. And among other changes, consolidating and cutting the state’s costly, duplicative layers of government could help reduce the high property tax bills county residents are facing.
Without spending reforms like these, Macon County taxpayers could see future increases in their bills, much like they saw from 2016-2017. And with that, they might also see more of their neighbors head for the exits.