RANTOUL - Robert Farmer and many other Rantoul homeowners got a bit of unpleasant news in the mail a few weeks ago.
Earlier last month, they received their annual property tax bills, and they're higher - 14 percent to 16 percent higher in some cases.
In fact, the village of Rantoul in northern Champaign County now has the highest overall property tax rate in Champaign County, at $8.85 or $8.91 per $100 of assessed valuation, depending on where you live in the village.
The city of Urbana, which has long held the title of having the highest property tax rate in the county, now sits in second place. Urbana's overall tax rate is $8.61 per $100 of assessed valuation.
Despite property tax caps being in place, many Champaign County residents are seeing larger than inflationary property tax increases. In some cases, like in Sadorus and Colfax townships, the bigger bills are attributable to a large township multiplier due to increasing property values. Rantoul residents are seeing tax hikes due to a higher overall tax rate brought about by voter approval of a tax hike for the Rantoul City Schools District.
Other areas of the county, such as in Mahomet, saw bills increase by a more modest 3 percent or 4 percent, according to a sampling of bills provided by Champaign County Treasurer Dan Welch.
In Farmer's case, the bill for his large ranch at 398 Highland Drive went from $1,969 last year to $2,253 this year - an increase of $283 or 14 percent.
"I don't like it, but there's not much I can do about it," said Farmer, who is retired. "I think the village board ought to be changed, to get somebody in there who knows what the value of money is. The swimming pool (a new municipal family aquatic center) is uncalled for."
Farmer said he's able to afford the increase, but he said he knows other seniors who are having a hard time.
"I own some farmland, so I'm not hurting too bad, but I know some people who are," he said.
The biggest factor in the village's rate increase, which is about $1 higher than a year ago, is an 80-cent tax increase for the Rantoul City Schools District. The increase was approved by voters on April 1.
A countywide 10-cent tax to support construction and operation of a new Champaign County Nursing Home also contributed to higher bills. It was approved by voters in November.
Some Rantoul residents say the higher tax bills are the price the village must pay to retain a top-notch educational system.
"The way I look at it, I've been a homeowner since 1972, and for 20 years, I had the cheapest property tax rates in Champaign County because of Chanute Air Force Base and the federal assistance," said Bob Fulling, who lives on West Champaign Street in Rantoul.
"Now we've got to pay the price," Fulling said. "Industry that comes into Rantoul will look at our schools first of anything."
Fulling saw his real estate bill increase from $4,830 last year to $5,526 this year, a 14 percent increase.
Joanne Kelly of 364 Highland Drive said her three children's education is more important to her than a higher property tax bill. Her tax bill increased by $205, to $1,787 this year.
"Keeping them interested in school, with things like sports and after-school activities, is more important to me than saving a few dollars," she said. "It keeps kids out of trouble."
Despite the higher taxes, Rantoul real estate broker Herman Fogal of Realty 2000 said he hasn't seen home sales in Rantoul hurting from the higher tax bills.
"Yesterday, we had only 50 properties listed for sale on the Multiple Listing Service, and a month ago, we were in the high 60s," said Fogal, a former member of the village board.
But it also should be noted that no new subdivisions are planned for Rantoul, unlike many other county communities.
Rantoul Mayor Neal Williams said he doesn't like Rantoul wearing the crown of having the highest overall tax rate. But there isn't much choice, he said.
"Education is for our children and the future," he said. "To have well-educated children will be to the benefit of Rantoul. But it was a tough decision for the people of Rantoul to make."
Williams noted Rantoul owns its own electric utility and also has village water and sewer. Village residents pay lower utility bills than in most Champaign County communities, helping offset their property tax bills, he said.
Meanwhile, Urbana Mayor Tod Satterthwaite said he is more than happy to turn over the highest-tax-rate crown.
"I think it's just an indication our long-term goal of controlling the tax rate in Urbana - and all the hard work we've dedicated to it - has paid off in the long run," he said.
Other communities are closing in on Urbana for second place. Ivesdale's overall tax rate is $8.49, while the overall rate is $8.40 in Longview, $8.29 in Philo and $8.24 in Homer. Champaign's rate is $7.69.
Higher tax rates are not the only factor causing residents to pay higher bills. In many cases, township multipliers have increased at a faster pace than inflation and are responsible for some of the bigger tax increases this year.
Township multipliers are a device applied by the Champaign County Board of Review to the 30 townships in the county. They are used to bring property assessments up to the state-mandated one-third of fair market value, or 33.3 percent.
By using township multipliers, the county achieves a 1.0 multiplier, which means property is properly assessed at one-third of market value, without having to use a less accurate countywide multiplier.
For example, a township multiplier in a remote area of the county, where housing prices are stagnant, would reflect that, while a countywide multiplier might show overall increasing home prices in the county and would raise assessments even in townships that are seeing stagnant or declining home prices. That's why the county uses township multipliers, said Bonnie Vaughn, Champaign County's supervisor of assessments.
A township multiplier is arrived at by taking sale prices of homes and property in the township over the past three years and comparing them to what the property was assessed at. If sale prices show property values are rising and homes are under-assessed, then a township multiplier is applied to bring the average assessment up to one-third of fair market value.
Assessments themselves are arrived at through measuring the property and calculating the replacement cost, using a state manual, and depreciating the value according to the age and condition of the property, Vaughn said.
In the sampling of property tax bills provided by the county treasurer's office, property tax bills increased between 6 percent and 7 percent in Cunningham Township; between 3 percent and 7 percent in City of Champaign Township; 3 percent in Champaign Township; between 9 percent and 10 percent in St. Joseph Township; 4 percent in Mahomet Township; about 13 percent in Sadorus Township; 12 percent in Colfax Township; 14 percent in Rantoul Township; and 16 percent in Ludlow Township.
Overall, county taxing bodies will collect $182.7 million in property taxes this year, a 6.2 percent increase over the $171.9 million collected last year.
Champaign County is governed by property tax caps, which limit most, but not all, taxing bodies to increases equal to the rate of inflation or 5 percent, whichever is lower, for existing properties. Taxing bodies also get any additional income from new construction going onto the tax rolls for the first time.
The rate of inflation was 1.6 percent last year.
But not all taxing bodies are covered by tax caps, including the home-rule municipalities of Champaign, Urbana and Rantoul as well as districts that overlap into other counties without tax caps, such as the Mahomet-Seymour School District and Parkland College.
The first installment of property tax bills is due Monday. The second installment is due Sept. 2.
You can reach Mike Monson at 217-351-5370 or at firstname.lastname@example.org .