URBANA — As usual, Champaign County's property tax bills will go out in the mail on May 1.
But not as usual, this year's bills reflect lower property assessments, due primarily to decreases in the value of residential property. The reduced assessments also triggered, for the most part, higher tax rates.
The countywide assessed valuation dropped about 1 percent from $3.561 billion last year to $3.546 billion this year. It's the first time in at least 27 years that the value of property in the county has decreased, according to the county clerk's office.
What makes the overall drop even more stunning is that the value of farmland in the county has increased substantially.
"Farmland values have gone up the limit for the last four or five years," said Stan Jenkins, the county supervisor of assessments.
But the value of residential property in the county has fallen in the last year from $2.195 billion to $2.165 billion. The value of industrial property also has dropped, from $48.4 million to $44.5 million.
The value of commercial property grew a fraction, and overall farmland values climbed from $258.1 million to $273.5 million.
Two rural townships — East Bend and Newcomb — reported increases in their overall assessed valuations, while the rest of the county recorded decreases.
The city of Champaign's overall assessed valuation dropped from $1.541 billion to $1.525 billion, and Urbana's decline was from $595 million to $584 million. In Rantoul Township, according to Chief Deputy Supervisor of Assessments Joe Meents, the drop was a more pronounced 6 percent.
Because of the drop in valuations, tax rates have increased in most cases. But the overall affect on individual property tax bills will be relatively small, County Treasurer Dan Welch said.
"We will collect about $285 million, which is about 5.4 million or 1.92 percent over last year," he said. "That's one of the lowest increases since I've been in this office.
"Two years ago was a 1.52 percent increase. That was the second lowest since 1984. The 1984 taxes payable in 1985 actually went down," Welch noted.
This year's 1.92 percent increase is less than the Consumer Price Index of 3 percent, Welch said.
And it's far below the average annual property tax increase of 5.86 percent over the last 39 years, he said.
Individual property owners won't see a 1.92 percent increase, he said. An individual's tax bill will depend on their assessment and the tax rate in their area. Welch noted, for example, that his own tax bill grew by about 3 percent.
The first installment of property tax payments will be due June 1; the second is due Sept. 4. Interest of 1.5 percent per month will be assessed on bills paid after those dates.
Payments may be made at any participating bank in Champaign County, at the treasurer's office at the Brookens Center in Urbana and by mail at P.O. Box 9, Urbana, IL 61802.
Payments also may be made by credit card although they require a fee. For more information see the treasurer's office website at http://www.co.champaign.il.us/treas/advancepay.htm .
The one significant change in property tax billings this year, Welch said, is that the county has a new vendor mailing the bills.
"We had a problem last year where some property owners also got their neighbor's bills," he said. "One person would find two or three neighbors' bills in their envelope, so that was a problem. People didn't like that and I can certainly understand that. So we started looking for an alternative and found a company called Mail Communications Group of Des Moines that some other counties use."
The advantage, he said, is that a person who owns more than one piece of property in the county will get all tax bills in one envelope. That also will save the county about $10,000.
This is the 10th consecutive year that property tax bills will be sent out on time, Welch said.
"It's not just us," he said of his office. "It's the township assessors, the board of review and the supervisor of assessments. The county clerk does a tremendous amount of work. And the (information technology) department is a big help too as well as the treasurer's office, so it's all just a big group that works together. We call ourselves the tax cycle group and we meet once a week to make sure everything is on schedule."