Of all the issues facing Rockford, property taxes is perhaps the most complex.
According to tax-rates.org, the median property tax bill in Winnebago County is $3,056 per year, which ranks the county as the 151st highest taxed county out of the 3,143 in the United States. Obviously, that’s not good.
But a low tax bill does not always equate to a more desirable place to live. People are willing to pay higher taxes if they believe they are getting value for their money. I looked at the Livability.com list of 100 best mid-size communities to live list and found the median property taxes paid of the counties of the top 25 cities. Nearly half, 12 to be exact, had a higher median property tax bill.
Count (city), median property tax bill
- Santa Clara County (Palo Alto, Calif.), $4,694
- Arlington County (Arlington, Virginia), $4,564
- Middlesex County (Newton, Mass.), $4,356
- Howard County (Columbia, Maryland), $4,261
- Dane County (Madison, Wis.), $4,149
- Chittendon County (Burlington, Vermont), $4,096
- Alameda County (Pleasonton, Calif.), $3,993
- Washtenaw County (Ann Arbor, Mich.), $3,913
- Tompkins County (Ithaca, New York), $3,815
- Montgomery County (Rockville, Maryland), $3,690
- King County (Bellevue, Washington), $3,572
- Frederick County (Frederick, Maryland), $3,082
In fact, there were just five on the Livability list that could truly be considered low tax areas, those with median property tax bills below $2,000 – Riley County, Kansas; Olmstead County, Minnesota; Williamson County, Tennessee, Wake County, North Carolina and Larimer County, Colorado.
Ironically, two major public companies that got started in Rockford and grew to be billion dollar operations moved their headquarters from Winnebago County to two of those counties with lower tax burdens.
- CLARCOR, parent company of J.L. Clark, moved its headquarters from Rockford to Williamson County, Tennessee, in 2004. Parker-Hannifin Corp. bought out CLARCOR in February.
- Woodward Inc. in 2008 moved its headquarters from Loves Park to Larimer County, Colorado.
Of course, most of the communities on the Livability top 100 list are high-income towns. That’s part of the reason they are on the list in the first place. Still, three counties considered to be among the top 25 mid-sized cities to live have a higher property tax bill to income ranking:
County (City), median property tax bill, tax bill as percent of income
- Tompkins County (Ithaca, New York), $3,815, 5.30%
- Chittendon County (Burlington, Vermont), $4,096, 5.25%
- Dan County (Madison, Wisconsin), $4,149, 5.06%
Winnebago County’s median property tax bill as a percent of income was 4.99%.
It’s when you look at Winnebago County’s property tax bill as a percent of the median fair market value of a home here then we truly stand out … in a bad way. Every single county in the top 25 paid a lower percentage of their median fair market home value.
County (City), median property tax bill, median fair market value – percentage of FMV.
- Williamson County (Franklin, Tenn.), $1,879, $335,800 – 0.56%
- Albermarle County (Charlottesville, Va.), $2,219, $349,800 – 0.63%
- Larimer County (Fort Collins, Colo.), $1,570, $246,000 – 0.64%
- Santa Clara County (Palo Alto, Calif.), $4,694, $701,000 – 0.67%
- Alameda County (Pleasanton, Calif.), $3,993, $590,900 – 0.68%
- Montgomery County (Rockville, Maryland), $3,690, $482,900 – 0.76%
- Arlington County (Arlington, Virginia), $4,564, $571,700 – 0.80%
- Wake County (Cary, North Carolina), $1,793, $222,300 – 0.81%
- King County (Bellevue, Washington), $3,572, $407,700 – 0.88%
- Frederick County (Frederick, Maryland), $3,082, $349,500 – 0.88%
- Hoaward County (Columbia, Maryland), $4,261, $456,200 – 0.93%
- Thurston County (Olympia, Washington), $2,472, $257,800 – 0.96%
- Middlesex County (Newton, Mass.), $4,356, $420,800 – 1.04%
- Olmstead County (Rochester, Minn.), $1,891, $174,000 – 1.09%
- Cumberland County (Portland, Maine), $2,973, $248,400 – 1.20%
- Riley County (Manhatten, Kansas), $1,903, $154,800 – 1.23%
- Johnson County (Overland Park, Kansas), $2,664, $209,900 – 1.27%
- Story County (Ames, Iowa), $2,076, $156,000 – 1.33%
- Johnson County (Iowa City, Iowa), $2,526, $177,000 – 1.43%
- Burleigh County (Bismarck, N.D.), $2,385, $152,900 – 1.56%
- Chittendon County, Burlington, $4,096, $254,700 – 1.61%
- Dane County (Madison, Wis.), $4,149, $230,800 – 1.80%
- Washtenaw County (Ann Arbor, Mich.), $3,913, $216,200 – 1.81%
- Allegheny County (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), $2,553, $115,200 – 2.22%
- Tompkins County (Ithaca, New York), $3,815, $162,100 – 2.35%
Winnebago County’s median fair market value, according to tax-rates.org, was $128,100, which means homeowners are paying 2.39% of their fair market value in taxes.
The Rockford area’s bizarre tax burden has no easy fix. If taxing bodies actually worked together to vastly lower the amounts they asked from tax payers it could shoot our unemployment rate higher. In 1980, just four of our top 20 employers were public taxing bodies. Eight of the top 10 were manufacturing companies – Chrysler, Sundstrand, Barber-Colman, Atwood Industries, Ingersoll Milling Machine, Textron Inc. and Warner-Lambert Co.
Today, six of the top 20 are taxing bodies – Rockford School District, Winnebago County, Rockford Park District, City of Rockford, Harlem School District and Belvidere School District.
The only real long-term solution is to continue to push taxing bodies to be more efficient with the dollars they receive and to turn around all of the areas that keep our property values down – crime, jobs, infrastructure, education – to at least give homeowners more value for those property tax dollars spent.