Decatur property taxes put the hurt on remaining residents

Decatur property taxes put the hurt on remaining residents

With an average property tax bill of more than $2,000 a year, Decatur continues to hike taxes on a shrinking population.

Brandon Bordner grew up in Decatur in the 1990s and remembers when the town was still thriving.

But now that he’s helping his parents put their longtime Decatur home on the market, the picture isn’t so pretty. Decatur has lost a great deal of industry and people since Bordner’s childhood.

The one thing that hasn’t taken a dive? The property tax bill.

The house his parents have listed for just over $100,000 comes with nearly $4,000 in property taxes each year.

“It definitely comes into play,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of leverage to the buyer in negotiating: ‘You want to get rid of this house, but I can’t get approved to pay that much per month.’”

Research from the nonpartisan Tax Foundation shows the median property tax bill for a Macon County homeowner is $2,004. That’s a higher median bill than most counties in Illinois, the state with the highest property taxes in the nation. These bills combined with dwindling manufacturing employment could help explain Macon County’s continuing loss of residents.

Beyond family homes, commercial property in Decatur also takes a hit from high real estate taxes. That makes it much harder to fill so many of the empty storefronts that have popped up over the years.

It’s Zane Peterson’s job to sell those properties to businesses looking to grow. And he says property taxes make that a tough task.

“When you’re a corporation looking to acquire and make significant investments, you compare [Decatur] to Indiana, Iowa and Missouri and the taxes work against us,” Peterson said.

“If logistically you can save millions of dollars in another state, that’s what they’re doing. And it’s hurting us … I think lowering [property taxes] would definitely help stimulate some business growth.”

Clearly, these bills can be a heavy burden at a time when Decatur is struggling to spur growth. It doesn’t help that they continue to rise. In 2015, Decatur City Council hiked the city’s property tax levy by nearly 15 percent.

It’s also not helpful that state politicians refuse to address the cost drivers that make these bills so expensive. The Illinois Policy Institute’s plan to balance the state budget without tax hikes includes comprehensive property tax reform that tackles rising property tax bills at the source.

The bottom line for Decaturites is this: Without property tax reform, forging a bright economic future will be difficult. And until state reforms empower local leaders to bring down the cost of government, don’t expect an ounce of relief on those bills.

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