John Bleecker and his wife will both be retired soon. They live in Oswego Township, and they’re afraid that once they’re on a fixed income, they won’t be able to pay their property taxes, and they’ll have to move.
The Bleeckers say their taxes have risen over the past few years, to about $11,000 per year now. In order to pay them, they’re worried they’ll have to spend all of their savings just to stay in their home, and with the housing market still struggling, they may have to take a loss on their house just to sell it and move out.
“We want to have some amount to leave to our kids, to help them out,” John Bleecker said. “We don’t want to draw our savings down to nothing.”
The Bleeckers’ story was just one of hundreds the organizers of the Kendall County Property Tax Revolt heard on Friday afternoon. The informal group set up shop in in Oswego at noon, and stayed until 8 p.m., seeing a steady stream of people and hearing tale after tale of tax woes.
This is the second tax protest this group has organized. The first, held in Yorkville in May, , and co-oranizer Gary O’Neil estimated similar numbers for Oswego’s rally. It started, he said, as a series of sessions to educate people on the rules for challenging property tax assessments, but it’s become a way for residents to vent their frustrations, and send a message to politicians.
To that end, the group – which consists of O’Neil, Mark Johnson, Jan Alexander, and Don and Judie Burks – is circulating a petition asking Kendall County to lower taxes back to 2008 levels, or cut 20 percent in spending. According to a Tax Foundation report released in May, Kendall County ranks 26th out of 2,992 U.S. counties when it comes to high property tax rates.
On Friday, scores of people signed that petition, leaving personal comments about their own battles with high taxes.
Johnny and Yolanda Keh, for example, live in Oswego. They’re both in their 60s, and a few years ago they chose to freeze their property taxes. But they were amazed to see that their taxes have gone up anyway - $300 in 2010, and $500 last year, they said. They have lived in their home for more than 40 years, and when they tried to challenge their tax bills, they were told they were out of luck.
The lion’s share of property taxes in this area go to the Oswego School District, and John Bleecker believes he knows why. During the good times, he said, residents voted for a referendum, and the district built several new schools. But now many of those schools are sitting partially unused, he said, and the residents of the district keep paying for them.
“No one’s going to go backward and (lower taxes),” he said. “The best case scenario is we can keep them from going up, and we might be able to live here long enough for the housing market to come back.”
O’Neil said the group plans to distribute their petitions to the different taxing bodies in Kendall County. And while they don’t expect immediate change, they believe they will send a message, and hopefully start a discussion.
As for the future, no further tax revolts have been set in stone, but O’Neil said more will be held. And at some point in the future, the group – which considers itself non-partisan – may begin to recommend candidates for office.
The idea, as Judie Burks told the Kehs, is to stand together, and hopefully get the point across through sheer numbers.
“You should be able to have a big enough voice just because you’re a taxpayer,” she said. “Your voice isn’t big enough, and mine isn’t big enough. But together, we’re noisy.”