Cook County repeals its wheel tax, following moves by some suburbs to end vehicle sticker fees

Starting next June, about 50,000 drivers living in unincorporated Cook County will have one fewer tax to pay. The Cook County Board on Thursday voted to do away with its so-called wheel tax.

For most residents, it cost $80 or $100 a year, based on the size of the vehicle. Semis, tractors and buses paid anywhere from $100 to $230, depending on weight.

The county has collected an average of $3.6 million a year from the tax in recent years. Doing away with the charge will save about $500,000 in annual administrative costs, including 80,000 staff hours, according to county finance officials. Those staff hours will be directed elsewhere, they said in a news release.

Thursday’s unanimous vote at the Cook County Board means the county has “permanently” ended its vehicle registration fines and fees. Sponsored by Commissioner Kevin Morrison and supported by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the aim of the change was to eliminate “a regressive tax that has been a burden on county residents,” Morrison said in a county news release.

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Several suburban municipalities have done away with city stickers in recent years, but some kept the registration cost in place. Chicago has been in the midst for several years of fine and fee changes related to vehicle stickers, which cost $90 a year, as well as parking tickets and vehicle booting and towing. Such charges — and late fees or violations related to them — can lead to spiraling debt. They also “disproportionately impact residents with low income and residents of color in northeastern Illinois,” CMAP said in the release.

According to a 2021 CMAP report, 159 municipalities in northeastern Illinois impose annual vehicle fees on residents, ranging from $5 to $90. Among those who have either repealed required vehicle sticker charges: Hoffman Estates, Rosemont, Oak Lawn, Des Plaines, Lombard and Palatine.

“It is our duty to be responsible fiscal stewards for our working families,” Morrison said. “As many municipalities have eliminated their vehicle stickers, unincorporated Cook County residents should not be taxed more than their neighbors. I will continue to look for opportunities to find savings as well as provide effective services for our residents.”

At Thursday’s board meeting, Morrison said the move was only possible because of the county’s “strong fiscal position.”

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said in the news release that any lost revenue is negligible compared with what it will save families. “The Cook County Wheel Tax is regressive and unnecessary,” she said, adding that it disproportionately affects “Black and Brown residents of Cook County who can least afford to pay it. The resources we spend enforcing it outweigh its gains, and we’re proud that we can give the taxpayers some of their hard-earned money back.”

Preckwinkle and all 17 County Board seats are up for election Nov. 8.

The ordinance takes effect on June 30 next year.

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