Will All Highland Park Pay Taxes for Private Clubs?

Pending court decision would take golf courses like Old Elm, Exmoor, Bob-O-Link and Northmoor off tax rolls and shift burden to all community taxpayers.

A property tax appeal by the Onwentsia Club of Lake Forest could have far reaching effects on Lake County taxpayers and those in Highland Park in particular as well as communities throughout the state.

As the appeal stands, country club land like that belonging to Old Elm, Exmoor, Bob O'Link and Northmoor Country Clubs, including improvements such as clubhouses, would be granted open space status and therefore would receive a zero assessment.

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“The public needs to know what benefits these organizations, country clubs, are getting. Should we be providing tax relief for them?” Lake County Assessor Martin Paulsen said. He said the ruling could result in a significant shift in the tax burden.

The North Shore suburbs have numerous golf courses and country clubs including Highland Park’s Northmoor Country Club, Bob-O-Link Golf Club, Exmoor Golf Club and Old Elm Club.

“Somebody will have to pick up this money,” Ela Township Assessor John Barrington said. “It doesn’t go away; it just gets redistributed.” 

Barrington explained that country clubs, with clubhouses and restaurants, could apply for a tax exemption if the ruling holds. In Ela Township, some clubs filed an appeal last year in anticipation of the ruling.

Onwentsia Tax Appeal Timeline

The Onwentsia case began in 2006 when the county changed the open space valuation policy for golf courses to assess improved portions, such as a clubhouse or swimming pool, for their fair market value for residential use. Prior to 2006, golf courses were granted open space status, but improved areas were assessed at a market value of $1,000 per acre, according to the Appellate Court document on the case.

According to a timeline provided by Lake County Assessor Paulson:

  • In 2006, four Lake County golf clubs appealed their assessments and the Lake County Board of Review upheld the valuation changes.
  • Two golf courses appealed to the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board (PTAB).
  • In 2010, PTAB upheld the Lake County Board of Review decision.
  • Onwentsia appealed the PTAB decision in the Appellate Court.
  • In June 2011, the Appellate Court did not agree with the decisions of PTAB and the board of review and vacated the decision, sending it back to PTAB
  • In March 2012, PTAB issued a decision that all of Onwentsia’s improvements, with the exception of a dormitory, would receive a zero assessment.
  • Arguments in the Appellate Court are expected to take place this summer.

Barrington explained that if the ruling holds, golf clubs can apply for a refund of their taxes. He said some counties have already given golf courses a zero assessment in anticipation of the ruling, so they don’t have to refund the taxes.

State Legislation Could Fix Issue

State legislation could prevent the property tax burden being shifted to residents. Paulson said there is a legislative effort, which was started in the lame duck session, to clarify open space status as it refers to buildings on open space. 

“There are properties that should be valued at fair cash value, as well as the land they sit on,” Paulson said. 

“It’s troubling because there are a lot of different types of property, with open space status, that are not golf courses; some of them have buildings that are being valued for tax purposes,” said Lake County Assessor Martin Paulson. 

“People need to be a little outraged and to reach out to legislators so they can fix it, if they provide clarification in the language,” Barrington said.

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Jeff Wheeler February 01, 2013 at 05:39 PM
This is ridiculous. Private Country Clubs should be charged for their property tax. This law needs to change (contact your state rep). Years ago we were representing the City of Evanston on how to deal with Property Tax issues surrounding Northwestern University (the University does pay the city for their pro-rata share of their city-services they utilize). Therefore if Northwestern University wanted to swoop in and buy a large building, they could successfully petition to have it removed from the property tax roles if the building was fully utilized by the University. Evanston residents absorbed the property tax increases. These private clubs fall under a similar law where non-profits, houses of worship, clubs, organizations, and other entities can apply for property-tax-exempt status to be removed from the tax rolls. There needs to be a line drawn in the law where these entities must pay their portion of property taxes if they are not open to the public. A private country club that is NOT open to the general public should NOT be included in these laws. Places of worship, certain clubs, and other entities who open themselves up to membership and the general public should continue to receive their property-tax exemption. On the Northwestern University case, the City agreed with the University regarding their charter (tax free east of Sheridan road), but we lost the battle claiming their infrastructure west of Sheridan because of the law.
Meshephelous February 01, 2013 at 06:27 PM
I think the golf course portion should remain unassessed, or very lightly assessed, while the clubhouses should be taxed. The last thing we want is to force these private clubs to close because of a new huge tax burden, and see the land parceled off to developers at the expense of our open spaces. Where there are golf courses, there are fewer moms in minivans clogging up our roads and using our infrastructure.
Bob Smith February 01, 2013 at 06:32 PM
Does anyone want the open spaces to be developed because that's what would happen. That's why the city of highland park bought what is now highland park country club.
Stuart Senescu February 01, 2013 at 07:01 PM
I would not want the golf courses sold off for development to pay taxes (e.g. Downton Abbey -almost) but in return they should be required to follow the non-discrimination laws as applied to publicly operated golf courses. Also they should allow the general public one day bi-weekly to play. It would be interesting to see how many police/fire/ambulance calls have been made to these private courses in comparison to the public courses. Some city and county services are "insurance", e.g. fire/police/ems and they should pay some minimum amount. If that amount is covered by the taxes on structures, fine. Think of a gold course turned condo development and the referendums which would have to be passed by D113 and D112 to cover children moving in to those new developments.
Richard H Heineman Jr February 01, 2013 at 07:23 PM
This argument would make sense if we were discussing adding to the taxes for these private clubs. What is being discussed is a huge tax reduction. If they paid the tax before there is no reason to believe that they would close up because they were not reduced.
William d Brown February 01, 2013 at 08:06 PM
If they are to be off the tax rolls Them they should REALLY be open space and serve as Forest Preserve Plant more trees and let it go natural
William d Brown February 01, 2013 at 08:37 PM
Live near Exmoor and just watch all the Lake Forest BMW's speeding west on Vine, blowing stop signs. Or near Bob O Link speeding down Crofton.
Bill Clark February 01, 2013 at 09:49 PM
You have to be kidding? A private club is just that Private! It is a business entity, just like mine. I pay my property taxes on my building and land and so should they! This is criminal that we should be burdened with any of their operating costs. They should pay their full share on the land and the buildings. Raise your dues!
forest barbieri February 01, 2013 at 10:21 PM
Can my backyard be open land?
Jeff Wheeler February 01, 2013 at 10:24 PM
William -- In Highland Park? No way, I've never seen anything like that in my life..... everyone around here drives like angels!!
Jeff Wheeler February 01, 2013 at 10:30 PM
You could try... Form a non-profit corporation with the State ($75). Subdivide your property with the assessor ($220), quit claim deed the portion of your newly subdivided lot to your non-profit ($60 recording fee), and go to the assessor and claim an exemption -- citing it's a private club for you, your wife, and anyone from the Barbieri family you allow to buy into your club, and of course, those members of yours could bring guests, as long as they conform to the charter that the non-profit corporation you created allows for.
Bill Bommarito February 02, 2013 at 03:06 AM
Country clubs should pay their fair share of taxes, no doubt. Asking them to chip in a little more than previous years does not seem unfair. However, the hostility toward private clubs and their members is classless. Why is it ok for most owners of private residences to appeal their tax assessment, but when a private country club files an appeal it is suddenly welfare for the wealthy. Lets call it what it is. Their taxes were raised. ONE club filed an appeal. It doesn't warrant such a response. Nor is it even much of a news story in my opinion.
Susan Kozloff February 02, 2013 at 02:07 PM
Bill we are not being treated as equals here. I have applealed my taxes on several occasions. The assessor willl only negotiate a lesser value on the property improvements (house, garage, etc.) The land value (actual real estate) is set and its value will not be changed in an appeal. I was told by assessors that one reason my tax is high is because I have a 250' deep lot. This is what many of us are argueing about...that clubs' land value has fallen to zero and they are now are trying to have the improvements fall to zero as well. So how is this fair when residents pay for the value of their land but the clubs do not? What am I missing?
Bill Bommarito February 02, 2013 at 02:41 PM
Susan, I appealed mine twice! I sure wouldn't want anyone accusing me of asking for welfare, for simply exercising my right to have my appeal heard. You and I had our appeals heard. Now Onwentsia is doing the same thing. Hearing their appeal would be treating them as equals in my view. As far as ANY private club and how they are taxed, you can look for a lot of changes in the coming years. Lets treat them all the same shall we? I'm a golfer. And I sure do get defensive when I hear these negative comments about golfers and their impact to this community. These clubs raise a lot of money for charity. I'm fairly certain that you have NO IDEA of the positive impacts of living in a golf rich community. They let the local schools play, they host major amatuer golfing events among many other things (not to mention the rich history, and historical significance of the 100 + year old courses we have the pleasure of living near). One such historical course has been lost in HP already. Golfers are good people (99 % of the time). Take it easy on us please!
Susan Kozloff February 02, 2013 at 03:01 PM
You did not have to tell any of us that you golf as your comments are crystal clear. Perhaps memebers are afraid that their fees will rise to pay the tax burden? I have not bashed golfers nor have I recommended that any of the clubs be developed. And yes, an appeal hearing should be everyone's right....unfortunately....what respondants are upset about is the unequal outcome of those appeals....especially now with not too future tax hikes to pay for district #113, #112, HP Theater, beach devlopment, and on and on. Imagine if we had to rebate tax dollars to these clubs! And I am happy that the private clubs are so benelevant though I am sure that they are taking advantage of tax deductions there as well. I grew up attending a private club and hold equity in it now as well. Being in another county, I really don't know if it had taken advantage of the open space provision but I will find out! Bottom line its just not fair.....
Susan Kozloff February 02, 2013 at 03:06 PM
ooopppss..mistype meant to say benevolent..
Bill Bommarito February 02, 2013 at 03:19 PM
I'm not a member of any private club. I'm a "public" golfer. The fact that I golf is totally relevant to this conversation. I see what golf does to a community, and to a young kid who picks up the game early (like I wish I did). When I see golf, and golfers in general taking a tongue lashing from commentators, I like to tell them how I feel about the game, and the courses we live near. No you didn't bash any golfers, nor did I say you did. But others have. For two and a half years I have read the negative comments about "closing" public golf courses. Now a private club is asking for welfare because they have the NERVE to appeal their taxes. Lets not be confused. They own an extremely large and valuable piece of land. When the tax code changes, they owe it to themselves to have their side of the story heard. If you had a piece of land like this, you would do the same thing. But it's about everyone being treated equal, right?
Susan Kozloff February 02, 2013 at 03:27 PM
Yes I agree...they have the NERVE to appeal thier taxes on the improvements when they already have a 0% tax rate on the land....EXACTLY!!!! That is what is NOT FAIR!!! Plus this sets a precedent for other land parcels which should be taxed...as you said...YOU WOULD DO THE SAME THING. I am sure many will if this appeal wins.
Bill Bommarito February 02, 2013 at 03:46 PM
Fair enough. We'll agree to disagree on that. Again, I think they should pay a little more. And I don't blame them for arguing about "how much more". It seems hypocritical to criticize them for doing the same thing you and I did. And it's disturbing that so many people jump at such a story when "wealthy golfers" are introduced into the equation. There's lots of people getting massive tax breaks with large parcels of land around here. Where are the stories about them? I'm saying when the community "picks" on the golfers, you're "picking" on the wrong people. And you're wasting your time too, because we aren't going anywhere. Have a good weekend, Susan. I do respect your opinion even though I disagree at the level of outrage.
Susan Kozloff February 02, 2013 at 07:20 PM
The clubs were singled out because they are the subject of this article. Being a golfer you are taking this personally. Any group getting this preferential treatment would receive the same wrath. I hope others are singled out and this tax evasion, whether legal or not, can be recified in favor of the taxpayers. Thanks for the jousts!
bob February 02, 2013 at 08:36 PM
everyone should follow the link to the Illinois Apellate Court decision. They explain the tax law in very clear terms. The Clubs buildings are sitting on open space and therefore according to the law should be treated as open space and therefore not taxable. The only way to change the law must be done in the State Legislature.
Susan Kozloff February 02, 2013 at 08:45 PM
Another Bob read the law and you are incorrect.
Susan Kozloff February 02, 2013 at 08:47 PM
And this is the intent of the PATCH article: to inform the taxpayers of another wrong against them. Seemingly, this is why the state liegislature is looking into it for change!
Susan Kozloff February 02, 2013 at 08:49 PM
It has and is on third appeal
Susan Kozloff February 02, 2013 at 08:53 PM
Not if wise negotiators added that developers provide the school as well as monies in advance for operational costs for a set number of years. This is done routinely....though HP is so into giveaways and sticking it to the taxpayers that you can't trust their negotiations which leads me to believe that a bit of graft is in the mix.
Susan Kozloff February 02, 2013 at 08:56 PM
Pay "a little" more....how about any? They want 0% and are not satisfied with the little they do pay.
Bill Bommarito February 02, 2013 at 10:03 PM
What is the definition of open space? Is it not when a group of people get together and purchase land thus preventing its development? Is is certrainly not "your back yard". This is what private club members (and their founding members) have done. Homes would most likely be there right now had they not done what they do. When is the last time the wounded warriors, The First Tee and Parkinsons foundation played 18 holes in your back yard raising unknown amounts for their cause? When is the last time the US amatuer open was held in your back yard? I think its wrong to call it tax evasion. I think its wrong to say they are asking for welfare. I think their entitled to an appeal. Just like everyone else.
Susan Kozloff February 02, 2013 at 11:23 PM
The issue IS NOT THE APPEAL...they appealed......ITS THE OUTCOME THAT IS WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!! These are PRIVATE BUSINESSES! If they choose to have charities play on the land...fine....their choice....but they are also taking advantage of lenient tax laws in doing so as well. No citizen should be liable for a private business's assets. THIS IS THE CRUX OF THIS ARTICLE
Lorry Kirsch February 09, 2013 at 07:40 PM
I belong to a Private Country Golf Club. We allow women members, members of all religions, and members of all colors. I am a woman, so I can not even enter two of the country clubs in question, two clubs won't let me join because of my religion and one of the five in question can't stop bragging about how wealthy the members of their club are. OPEN LAND??? I am not allow onto some of this so-called OPEN LAND.
Cliff Hanger February 09, 2013 at 07:58 PM
Perhaps it's time (or well past it) to treat these 'let-them-eat-cake' proposals with the same amount of laughter as we do indignation.... It's 2013 and we're still using the word "allow"?? Come on folks, laughing in the face of a bully, deflates and defeats him - anger only fuels their fire. Picture the next public Q and A either one way or the other... "Laughed out of office" sure beats the hell out of, "in a divisive, hotly contested election..."


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