Wednesday, February 01, 2006

What percent of that Taser belongs to me?

Got my 2005 First Installment Property Tax Bill in the mail the other day. Seven hundred sixteen dollars and eighty cents. Not too bad for a place in the city, although it is a tiny one-bedroom condo unit in a hasn't-gentrified-in-five-years neighborhood way up on the North Side. You've probably never seen my place because I don't ever have parties ... or get-togethers. Makes me wonder what the difference would be if I lived here or in some small rural town or even some faraway country. But that's beside the point.

You can't escape death and taxes. But I wonder if it's possible to figure them out. Is it possible to figure out where my fourteen hundred dollars a year is spent? Out of the fourteen hundred dollars I'm paying this year, how many dollars will the schools get? And the police department? The forest preserve?

The next time I'm being hassled by a cop, I'd like to be able to say, "Hey, I'm paying your salary, man. In fact, the Chicago Police Department got exactly fifty eight dollars and nine cents from me!" Then I'd like a breakdown of how much a Taser M26 costs, so I'd know if the police department is getting its money's worth as I get zapped.

It's not like I get hassled by cops all that much. I'm a nerdy white guy after all. But in the last couple of years I've lived here, a couple of incidents stand out.

Once, on a Sunday, I got up early and decided to go for a walk, heading towards the lake. A block from home an unmarked squad car pulled up to me. (I wonder how much those go for.) "Hey, where you going?" the cop asked. "Nowhere, just walking around," I said. "Where you coming from?" I looked around. No one was around. It didn't look like I was coming from anywhere. "I just woke up so I decided to go for a walk," I said, "but can I ask why you want to know?"

Both cops used my question as a reason to jump out, grab me, and toss me in the back of the car. They drove me a few blocks away, I guess to the scene of a crime, and a woman came out of a building to identify me. She said I wasn't the guy. I'm glad she didn't finger me because, really, I didn't have an alibi. The cops asked me where I wanted to be dropped off. I wanted to say, "You know, I just paid for one-tenth of a percent of the gasoline you burned driving me around, so don't accelerate too rapidly," something snotty like that, but I didn't know how much of my tax money goes to the police department. So I had nothing to say. But I had to say something anyway, so I said, "Drop me off at the Dunkin Donuts by my house. You know where that is, right?" After the dirty look I got from the front seat I decided to stay home blogging instead of walking around the next time I'm up before sunrise.

The other time I was hassled was waiting in my car for a friend on a residential street. Another unmarked squad car pulled up and a not-friendly officer told me I was parked at a fire hydrant. "I know," I said, "I'm just waiting for a friend. He's coming right down." He was pissed: "OK then, how about I just write you a ticket?" I wanted to tell him that he'd just be wasting his time and my money by doing that, but I had no idea what percent of his salary I had paid. So I drove around the block.

This leads to one of the biggest problems I have with the city. I don't understand why some blocks and neighborhoods get permit parking. I mean, I don't understand why I don't get to park in certain neighborhoods ... just because I didn't pay for an extra sticker? I know, I know, some neighborhoods are congested and residents can't find parking, yahda, yahda, but I've already paid for the privilege of using city streets. I pay my taxes. I buy a city sticker. The streets belong to me just as much as anyone else. But again, I don't know what percent of my property taxes go to the city's streets and sanitation department.

I admit I haven't tried really hard to find out. On the back of the tax bill are web sites to check out "for answers / help." So I went to the Cook County Treasurer site, and the Cook County Assessor, and the Cook County Clerk. I didn't find my answers there, so maybe I should check out the Illinois Department on Aging's site.

In my half-hearted stumbling search for a pie chart that shows tax money distribution, I came across the The Illinois Property Tax System downloadable packet. In that, I got an idea of the bureaucracy involved in determining how much I pay, which really explains why taxes are so high. Basically, the "Non-farmland Property Assessment Administration Cycle" goes through these offices: The County Clerk, the Chief County Assessment Officer, the Township Assessor, the Chief County Assessment Officer, the Illinois Department of Revenue, a Board of Review, back to the County Clerk, back to the Illinois Department of Revenue, the County Clerk again, the Illinois Department of Revenue again, the County Clerk, the Taxing Body, the County Clerk, and then the County Treasurer, who serves as the county collector. If I happen not to pay, the cycle goes to the Circuit Court and finally the County Clerk and Treasurer to sell off my property. That's a lot of steps.

But such is life. I just hope death is a little easier to understand.


Anonymous Mr. Molitor said...

"You've probably never seen my place because I don't ever have parties ... or get-togethers"

I think it's about time to have a "house warming" party since it's been what 6 yrs since you became a Home--owner. The plant I bought you has since become a tree.....

10:15 AM  
Blogger Marley6 said...

ten pages and all Mr. Molitor gets out of it is that Andy needs to have a party - i like that!

11:21 AM  
Blogger art attack said...

Here is an experiment, have a party and then when the cops come to break it up, you can figure out if you can buy back the handcuffs slapped around your wrists after you get all sarcastic with the coppers. But as you said, your tax bill is so small and there is so many layers of bureaucracy that I doubt you could even say that you paid for one donut.

1:53 PM  

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