Thawing on the freeze

Opinion: Editorials

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The Landmark View

Just how much of a roll of the dice would Riverside be taking by opting in to a state program that allows the owners of older homes in historic districts to get a temporary tax freeze to encourage sensitive rehabilitation of those homes?

    It would seem at this point that the risk of dozens, much less 100 or more, homeowners jumping to take advantage of the freeze is pretty low. After all, the owner of any home in Riverside that qualifies as "historic" under the state's definition can already apply for and receive the benefit.

The only taxing body in Riverside that opts out of the freeze is the village of Riverside itself. School districts participate as does every other agency that appears on a homeowners' tax bill.

If there's been a hue and cry over the impact the freeze already has in Riverside, we haven't heard it.

Just how many homeowners participate in the freeze presently? Well, we asked that question of the Illinois State Historic Preservation Agency, and a spokesman confirmed that exactly one property in Riverside participates in the freeze program right now.

The last time the village board kicked around opting in to the assessment freeze was back in 2010. At the time, the board – citing similar concerns about whether giving a tax break to those who could afford big, historic homes was equitable, especially in light of what was then an economic recession.

Even then, however, there were figures on how many Riverside homeowners historically had taken part in the program. It wasn't a lot.

Between 1985, when the program was inaugurated, and 2010, a grand total of 12 properties participated, though clearly the majority of those (eight or so) signed up before local taxing bodies (which at one time included school districts) opted out. Only three properties were folded into the program after 2000.

We just don't see scores of homeowners rushing to take advantage of the freeze – which brings strict rules on the extent of and methods for rehabilitation. It's a tax freeze, sure, but it's also a bit of a hassle, particularly for more modest homes.

And, if the village experiences what it believes to be an overload in terms of those participating, the board can always opt out again.

But given the fact that the village is the sole agency opting out at this point and homeowners are receiving the bulk of the benefit of the freeze already, we'd say that's very unlikely.

Of course, you could argue for opting out simply on the principle of not having other homeowners subsidize rehabilitation of others' homes. But those structures that might most benefit from the freeze – like the one-time endangered bedroom wing of the Coonley Estate – also greatly benefit Riverside when they are sensitively restored.

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