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.

Get local news in a daily email from Patch. It's like getting a free newspaper. Learn more. 

“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.

 For more news and updates, "like" us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

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..."


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »