Golf Course Ruling Could Cost Lake Zurich Taxpayers

Decision would take golf courses off tax roll and shift burden to other taxpayers.


A property tax appeal by Onwentsia Golf Club in Lake Forest could have far reaching effects on Lake County taxpayers as well as communities throughout the state.

As the appeal stands, country club land, including improvements such as clubhouses, would be granted open space status and therefore would receive a zero assessment.

“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 Chicagoland suburbs have numerous golf courses and country clubs. Ela Township Assessor John Barrington said Ela Township has all or part of seven golf courses that pay over $250,000 in taxes that would be shouldered by residents. 

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

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 in summer 2013.


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, that 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. 

eicy January 31, 2013 at 01:14 AM
This is beyond outrageous!
Say it isn't so January 31, 2013 at 04:20 AM
Ahhhh..... thats better! Are we going to stand for this??
eicy January 31, 2013 at 09:23 PM
Say it isn't so, how do we stop this travesty? If it does come to pass, I think every tax payer in the city should show up enmasse and demand to use the facilities for no fee if we have to support it through our personally paid tax dollars. We all can walk into the library, for example, at no charge to use the services and we support it with our tax dollars....
Vortex January 31, 2013 at 10:01 PM
What's become of our society when "government unable to collect taxes they thought were owed" becomes "ruling could cost taxpayers". This as ridiculous as Washington-speak, like "those tax cuts cost the government billions of dollars!". Or "tax cuts for the rich that are paid for by the poor and middle class" -- as if it's the government's money in the first place, and we have to hope they allow us to keep some of it to live our lives. It's not "costing" taxpayers. Life is not a zero sum game. Let the government do with a little less this year, just like the rest of us do when there's an unexpected hiccup in income or expenses on our personal budgets. No one "pays" for tax cuts -- it just starves the beast, which is nearly always a good idea.
Say it isn't so February 01, 2013 at 07:31 PM
EICY---- Nobody votes! 22% turn out last election- Start there-- Complain to everyone in elected office! Years ago the Catholic church use to buy huge office buildings in hot areas and claim the "religious" exemption- Legislators put an end to it and put the buildings back on the tax rolls--- it wasnt the intendant use of the exemption - same here!


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