(Reuters) - Mary Beth Jachec lives in a three-bedroom house in Wauconda, a village of 14,000 in Illinois, 45 miles northwest of Chicago. Her semi-detached brick home is unassuming. Her tax bills are not.

The 53-year-old insurance manager gets a real estate tax bill for 20 different local government authorities and a total payout of about $7,000 in 2014. They include the Village of Wauconda, the Wauconda Park District, the Township of Wauconda, the Forest Preserve, the Wauconda Area Public Library District, and the Wauconda Fire Protection District.

Then there is Wauconda Road and Bridge, not to be confused with Road and Bridge, Wauconda Gravel, or with Wauconda Special Road Improvement and Gravel unit – all three of which have imposed separate taxes on her and the village’s other homeowners.

Those three road entities come under the auspices of Wauconda Township. Officials there struggled to explain exactly what they each do, and why three separate taxing bodies are needed. The Wauconda Township Highway Commissioner, Joe Munson, said: “They are all for road maintenance.” So why three? “I don’t know why,” Munson said. “It’s always been that way."

Jachec, looking at her property tax bill, is dismayed. “It’s ridiculous,” she said.

A lot has been said about the budget crisis faced by Illinois - the state government itself is drowning in $37 billion of debt, and has the lowest credit ratings and worst-funded pension system among the 50 U.S. states. But at street level, the picture can be even more troubling.

The average homeowner pays taxes to six layers of government, and in Wauconda and many other places a lot more. In Ingleside, 55 miles north of Chicago, Dan Koivisto pays taxes to 18 local bodies. “I pay $271 a month just to the school district alone,” he said. "And I don't have children."


The state is home to nearly 8,500 local government units, with 6,026 empowered to raise taxes, by far the highest number in the U.S. Texas – whose population is more than twice that of Illinois - is second highest with about 5,150 local government units. Florida, with a population 54 percent greater than Illinois, has just 1,650, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Many of these taxing authorities, which mostly rely on property tax for their financing, have their own budget problems. That includes badly underfunded pension funds, mainly for cops and firefighters.

The Illinois authorities range from those typical across the nation, such as school and fire districts, to the unusual: for example, districts that raise taxes solely for the purpose of killing mosquitoes, lighting streets or maintaining cemeteries.

A Reuters analysis of property tax data shows that the sheer number of local government entities, and a lack of oversight of their operations, can lead to inefficient spending of taxpayer money, whether through duplication of services or high overhead costs. It leads to a proliferation of pension funds serving different groups of employees. And there are also signs that nepotism is rife within some of the authorities.

There is no central repository of data on the size and geographical boundaries of the local government authorities. The state comptroller does not audit the annual financial reports the local governments submit to it, said Rich Carter, a spokesman for the Comptroller’s office.

The state’s revenue department does keep data on property taxes collected by counties, but does not track taxes on individual properties. This makes it virtually impossible to systematically determine how many taxing districts overlap on parcels of land, or how much tax residents in a particular area pay unless they are individually surveyed. Because of these gaps and omissions, it is difficult to assess whether multiple layers of government lead to higher taxes.

On average, Illinois’ effective property taxes are the third highest in the U.S. at 1.92 percent of residential property values, only behind New Jersey and New Hampshire, according to the non-partisan Tax Foundation. (New Hampshire, unlike Illinois and New Jersey, doesn’t have a state income tax or a state sales tax.)

Critics of both the high taxation and the state’s governance structure say that it takes too much of a toll on homeowners, discouraging people from either coming to the state or staying in it. Illinois saw net migration of 95,000 people out of the state last year, the greatest in its history and second only to New York, according to U.S. Census data. It is unclear how much, if any, of that exodus might be due to high taxes.

In many Illinois cities and towns, high taxation still isn’t enough to keep up with increasing outlays, especially soaring pension costs, and some services have been cut. For example, in the state capital Springfield, pension costs for police and fire alone will this year consume nearly 90 percent of property tax revenues, according to the city's budget director, Bill McCarty. Since 2008, Springfield has cut 11 percent of its police force, closed three libraries, and tapped into other funds to pay pensions, McCarty added.