By Bob Uphues
After signaling possible interest in allowing the owners of historic homes to take advantage of a state tax freeze program to spur rehabilitation efforts, Riverside village trustees ended up scrapping the idea after all.
The unanimous decision on Jan. 18 to opt out of the tax freeze program, which is administered by the Illinois State Historic Preservation Office, came after staff provided additional information on the potential impact such a freeze would have on the rest of the village's property taxpayers.
According to figures provided by Community Development Director Sonya Abt, if just 4 percent of homeowners participated in the tax freeze program, those who didn't participate could face a tax hit of about $55 per $100,000 of their property's fair market value in the village's portion of the annual tax levy.
The 4-percent number was based on the experiences of Oak Park and Geneva, two villages that have opted into the state program. Oak Park for example has a number of specially designated historic districts in which certain homes are eligible for the freeze. About 4 percent of home within the districts participate, Abt said.
However, only about 0.5 percent of all homes within Oak Park participate in the program; many of the village's homes lay outside of the historic districts.
The biggest difference for Riverside is that the entire village is a National Historic Landmark District, and about 80 percent of the homes in the village – more than 2,000 – would be eligible to participate.
"That's really been the primary reason in the past that the village has opted out of this," said Village President Ben Sells. "Because the thought was that these kinds of projects, is it fair for the village overall to subsidize the renovation of these kind of homes."
The more property owners participating, the more those who don't participate would have to pay to make up for the frozen assessments.
Rules for participation in the freeze program are strict, and it's likely the vast majority of Riverside homeowners would take a pass. The rehabilitation budget must exceed 25 percent of the home's fair market value and the work must conform to U.S. Department of the Interior standards. Assessments on the property are frozen for eight years and then rise gradually over the next four years.
The board of trustees in December 2017 talked about the possibility of reinstating the tax freeze program in Riverside after the village's Preservation Commission recommended it.
According to Landmarks Illinois, the village of Riverside is the only governmental agency in the state still opting out of the state's tax freeze program for historic properties. Riverside has opted out of the program annually since the early 1990s.