Irate McHenry County residents use $1 bills to pay property taxes
Amanda Marrazzo Chicago Tribune
Two McHenry County (Illinois) residents this week had a single statement to make about rising property tax bills.
Jeff McGrath and Dan Aylward paid thousands of dollars of real estate taxes with $1 bills at the county treasurer's office and vowed to do so again in September and every due date afterward until the taxes stop increasing.
McGrath, who lives in Woodstock, where he also owns an automotive business, marched into the treasurer's office Monday, the due date to pay the first installment of 2015 real estate taxes. He carried in two clear plastic bags. One, he said, was filled with $9,995.66 in singles (and some coins) along with a check for $1,456 to pay his business real estate tax bill of $11,451.
The second bag was filled with $5,757.44 in singles and coins to pay his residential tax, he said.
He said he did that and will do it again Sept. 13 when the second installment is due to make one "plain and simple point."
"We are fed up with getting nickeled and dimed," McGrath said.
Aylward, 67, of McHenry, also arrived Monday with neatly bundled packages of singles stacked inside a black suitcase — along with two dimes — to pay a bill of $5,734.18.
He noted that he paid the county more than owed. "I gave them the two cents for my opinion," he said with a laugh.
Aylward said he paid a $4,500 tax bill the same way about 20 years ago.
Fed up with a 26% tax hike, Jeff McGrath, a Woodstock resident and business owner, explains why he used sixteen thousand one-dollar bills to pay his property and business taxes in McHenry County. Two other residents did the same earlier this week.
It was then that he met Bob Anderson of Wonder Lake, a barber, school board member and political activist. Anderson help Aylward arrange this year's "property real estate tax protest."
Anderson dedicates his life to eliminating big government. "Otherwise, how can there be tax relief?" he said.
McGrath didn't know Aylward and Anderson, but McGrath and Aylward were aware through others that each was paying his bill the same way.
McHenry County Treasurer Glenda Miller said that as a county taxpayer herself, she understands the frustration but asks that residents understand she runs an office of 13 employees, including herself, who deal with more than 138,500 tax bills. Coming into her office to pay with loads of cash only hurts her employees, and they are not at fault, she said.
McGrath said his residential tax bill has grown from $2,500 when he first built his ranch home in 1999. This year alone, he said, his tax bill jumped 26 percent, from $9,100 to more than $11,600, and he has heard no good explanation why.
Taxes on his business when he built it in 2003 were about $7,000, and that cost has risen to $23,000, he said.
"It's out of control," he said. "I can't stay here and continue to do business. I don't see an end in sight here."
McGrath said he budgets 5 percent a year for tax increases for each property. However, this year alone the house jumped 26 percent "and nobody can say why or tell me who is at fault," he said.
He said he already owns land in Wisconsin, where he plans on moving his home and business once he can sell the Woodstock properties, which is hindered because of the increasing taxes, he said.
McGrath said with the soaring real estate taxes, not only does the county and the state lose residents but businesses such as his. And if he shuts down his business, his seven employees will be out of work, further compounding a loss to the county.
By bringing the tax payment in cash, he said, he wanted the county to feel some discomfort, as he does when paying taxes. His loot was so much that it had to be taken to a local bank, accompanied by a county employee and sheriff's deputy, to be counted. The county's money counter jammed when trying to count the bills.
Aylward has lived in his McHenry home since 1984, when he bought it from his mother, who could not afford the taxes any longer. The home was built on a wooded lot along the Fox River by his great uncle as a summer home in 1911.
Today he fears he may lose it because of climbing taxes.
Both men say there is too much government and way too much being paid to school administrators. Both men say though the market value of their homes may not be considered pricey, their properties won't sell because the taxes are too high.
Like McGrath, Aylward said he will continue to pay his taxes in cash until his message is received and he finds some relief.
"The American Dream is to own a home," Aylward said. "(My home) is more than the American Dream. To me it's part of my family. When I leave this driveway (because) I'm forced to sell it because I can't afford to pay the taxes anymore, I will cry. ... I will fight with every breath that I take."
Treasurer Miller asks residents to understand that property was reassessed in 2015, which affected property values.
She said the last time she saw someone try to pay taxes in cash was when she was deputy treasurer in the late 1990s. A man attempted to pay thousands of dollars in real estate taxes with pennies. He was sent to the bank.
"I understand your grief, but I don't know what you are going to prove by putting more burden on my staff in processing your payment," she said.