Suffredin- For a Better Cook County  
 

Accountability
Forest Preserves
Public Safety
Cook County Budget
Forest Pres. Budget
Property Tax Appeal
Health & Hospitals
Land Bank Authority
Policy Resolutions
Unsung Heroine

 

   
 
   
   
 
   
     
  Office phone numbers:  
   
 
 

The Cook County Code of Ordinances are the current laws of Cook County.

   
 

Search current and proposed Cook County Legislation in Larry's exclusive legislative library.

   
  The first blood bank in the world was established at Cook County Hospital by Dr. Bernard Fantus in 1937.
   
     
     
     



Cook County's big, fat tax lie

Thursday, April 08, 2010
SouthtownStar
by Kristen McQuery

When property assessment notices arrive in the mail, they're usually missing a crucial addendum - two antacids, which ought to be affixed to the envelope.

Rarely does an assessment drop for a house or business, thus the lucrative role of tax appeal attorneys who know Cook County's convoluted property tax system like fruit bats know darkness. Rising property tax bills mean more clients.

No other tax - whether it's income, sales or cigarette - riles taxpayers like the property tax. It's expensive. It's mysterious. And it's right there on paper in black and white. It's like being pickpocketed inside your home.

So when a public fight erupted last week between Cook County public officials who oversee the property assessment and appeals process, the media paid attention.

Trouble is, we got caught in the smoke without examining the cause of the fire.

When retiring county Assessor Jim Houlihan blamed two Democratic powerhouses - county board of review chairman Joe Berrios and House Speaker Michael Madigan - for purposely delaying tax bills to avoid voter backlash before the Nov. 2 election, what he really did was expose the 30-year lie about property value in Cook County.

Residential property owners, primarily in Chicago, have been underassessed for decades. To appease voters, the assessor's office has routinely assessed homes far below their market value.

I've seen the proof. The market value of my Chicago house finally caught up this year to what we actually paid for it nine years ago. I didn't appeal my assessment. I figured it's about time I pay what I owe.

Most taxpayers disagree with me, and 99 percent of them, understandably, don't grasp the complexities of the property tax system.

Chicago homeowners have been getting a break for years while south suburban homeowners who live in areas with little business growth have been paying disproportionately. The owner of a two-bedroom house in Harvey or Dixmoor pays a greater share of his household income toward the property tax and gets fewer services than a homeowner in well-to-do Barrington.

Rather than confess the longstanding property tax lie, Cook County officials toss the issue into each other's laps like a hot potato. Who could possibly keep up with this nonsense?

During the course of his career, Houlihan has blamed rising assessments on gentrification, hot housing markets, the phaseout of the 7 percent cap, the levies imposed by taxing bodies. He also has blamed commercial and industrial property owners who hire slick lawyers and get tax breaks from appeal boards, shifting the burden to the little guys.

While there's some truth to all of that, assessments have risen mainly because Houlihan has tried to bring market value on paper in line with sales prices. You'll never get him to say so publicly. To do so would admit to years of inaccurate assessments by him and his predecessor, Tom Hynes.

But that's the truth.

The twist with the latest game of hot potato involves a rule that Houlihan implemented this year. The new rule codified what insiders have known for a long time - homeowners were assessed at 10 percent of market value, not 16 percent as they were supposed to be. And commercial and industrial property owners were assessed at about 25 percent of market value, not the 33 and 36 percent as advertised.

But to make the new math work without shocking tax rates, Houlihan had to pump up market values. The teeter-totter shifted.

Trouble is, he sent out notices to homeowners emphasizing the lower assessment percentages without warning homeowners that they would see a jump in market value. So tax bills actually are going up, despite assessment notices showing a drop. And by the time homeowners figure it out, they may miss deadlines to appeal their assessments.

The tit-tat over mailing tax bills late is mere smoke. Chances are we're all going to get our tax bills before November.

But the lack of transparency from Houlihan's office is what miffed board of review Commissioner Larry Rogers Jr., an independent-minded official who usually stays out of the boxing ring. His district includes much of Chicago's South Side and the south suburbs.

"Homeowners were lured into believing their market values went down based on the decrease in assessed value," Rogers said. "They were not fairly given the opportunity to appeal because they weren't given notice of the (market value) increase."

Houlihan's office insists that it followed all disclosure rules when mailing the assessment notices. It said it sent notices to all property owners, and market value information is listed for each property on the assessor's Web site.

The office contends that the three-member county board of review has become a mouthpiece for wealthy commercial property owners who have the means to hire attorneys and get reductions. Besides, homeowner appeals are up, so they were not misled, according to Houlihan's office.

Fighting words aside, the fire is the historically underassessed properties of Cook County and Houlihan's attempts to right the system without being straight about the problem.

It's about who will wear the jacket, this time, when high tax bills hit mailboxes this fall.

That's why property tax bills ought to come with antacid tablets.

Or a bottle of Jack Daniel's.



Recent Headlines

Judge: Labor unions don't owe non-union state workers refunds, despite unconstitutional fees
Wednesday, March 20, 2019
Cook County record

Recovery Behind Bars: Cook County Jailís Opioid Treatment Program
Wednesday, March 20, 2019
Medill Reports

The language of justice: Court interpreters fight for client rights and their rights in Cook County
Tuesday, March 19, 2019
Medill Reports

Cook County General Hospital's $90-Million Redevelopment Saves a Chicago Icon
Tuesday, March 19, 2019
Engineering News Rec ord

Preckwinkle sends out harassment survey to staff after harassment controversy in her office
Tuesday, March 19, 2019
Chicago Tribune

Illinois Land Title Association Granted Summary Judgment in Case against Cook County Recorder of Deeds
Sunday, March 17, 2019
Illinois State Bar Association

Grand Jury Indicts Debt Collector of Bribing Cook County Clerk Dorothy Brown
Friday, March 15, 2019
WBBM Chicago

Indictment: Cook County's hired debt collector charged with bribing county officials to secure county contract
Friday, March 15, 2019
Cook County record

Karen Chavers Honored as 2019 Unsung Heroine
Thursday, March 14, 2019
Special to suffredin.org

Pappas to announce deadline for Cook County property owners to pay late taxes
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
Chicago Sun-Times

Courts Cause Confusion For Woman Trying To Resolve Her Case
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
CBS Chicago

Census changes raise fears of Illinois undercounting
Monday, March 11, 2019
Chicago Sun-Times

Cook County Sheriff Warns of Apple Phone Scam
Monday, March 11, 2019
WTTW News

Caller poses as Apple to get victims personal info in scam targeting Cook County residents
Monday, March 11, 2019
WGN Chicago

Should Young Adults Be Sent To Juvenile Courts?
Sunday, March 10, 2019
NPR Radio

Cook County Jail hires 2nd consecutive mental health professional as warden
Wednesday, March 06, 2019
Chicago Sun-Times

Lawsuit: Sheriff jailed dozens because of faulty electronic monitoring devices
Monday, March 04, 2019
Chicago Sun-Times

Woman dies while in custody at Cook County Jail
Sunday, March 03, 2019
Fox 32

City considers landmarking old Cook County Hospital
Friday, March 01, 2019
Gazette Chicago

Judge: State constitution doesn't force Cook County to spend $250M more on roads, transport projects
Thursday, February 28, 2019
Cook County Rrecord

all news items

Paid for by Larry Suffredin and not at taxpayer expense. A Haymarket Production.
^ TOP