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Kaegi slams foes, vows to revamp Chicago property assessments
It's full speed ahead in the city despite opponents who benefit from "structural racism," says the Cook County assessor.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021
Crain's Chicago Business
by Greg Hinz

Slamming his foes as “hinky” types who are supporting a system of “structural racism,” Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi today strongly defended his record and vowed to proceed full speed ahead as he begins revaluing property in the city of Chicago and particularly the central business district.

“I was elected to change the assessment piece of our property tax system and we are making progress,” Kaegi said in a virtual speech to the City Club of Chicago. “Complicated, systemic problems don’t get easier if you ignore them; they get much worse.” (Read his prepared speech below.)


Kaegi pointed to work in the northern and southern/western portions of Cook County, all in the suburbs, as a model of what to expect as he tackles Chicago for the first time since taking office.

For instance, in data released today for the south and west suburbs, proposed total assessed valuations of residential properties are up just 3.9 percent over last year compared to hikes of 21 percent on vacant property, 40.1 percent on commercial and industrial property and 77.7 percent on large residential rental buildings. Kaegi earlier had released the data in different form.

 

The figures are similar to what Kaegi’s office produced in the northern suburbs, though the county Board of Review, which handles appeals, cut way back on his proposed non-residential hikes there, shifting part of the tax burden from business back to homeowners.

Kaegi emphasized that before he took office, a series of outside reports concluded that the local tax system generally undervalued commercial property and overassessed homes, particularly in heavily minority neighborhoods, even though homes are assessed for tax purposes at 10 percent of their market value, compared to the 25 percent standard for commercial properties.

His goal and campaign promise is to restore “equity” to that process, Kaegi said, and that’s what he’s doing.

Therefore, “We expect the trends that we observed in our reassessment of the suburbs to continue in Chicago,” Kaegi said. “We expect the residential and commercial base to grow, to close the disparity gaps observed in commercial reassessments, and to reduce the regressivity of residential reassessments.”

Kaegi loudly complained that certain “property tax firms” and other industry groups have advised their clients not to voluntarily comply with requests to provide his office more financial information so that he can make assessments more accurate.

“You’d think a tool that gets assessments right at the beginning of the process would be welcomed,” Kaegi said. “But it seems not everyone shares our enthusiasm.”

“Why would these groups be opposed?” he continued. His answer to his own question: “To force property owners into a broken system that’s dependent on appeals keeps us buried in corruptive influences of the past. That seems kinda . . . hinky.”

For good measure, Kaegi had some additional nasty words for property-tax appraisal firms often hired to assist big building owners in their appeals. Terming them “appraisal mills,” he slashed “a small subset of the appraisal industry whose entire purpose is to argue that a double bacon cheeseburger is in fact a salad.”

Kaegi also pointed to very high property tax rates in some suburbs, many of them majority African American, that have lost factories and do not have the city’s large commercial base. That forces up rates on homes.

“If you want to identify something that destroys intergenerational wealth and is a textbook example of structural racism, here it is,” Kaegi said.

Kaegi offered only one hope to commercial owners who fear that amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re about to be hit with huge, unaffordable assessment and tax hikes. That’s property tax reform in Springfield to reduce local governments’ reliance on such levies by providing new funding.

“The overdependence on property taxes will continue to hurt those who already bear too great a burden,” Kaegi said. “When we wonder why our area is losing population . . . it’s because we are continuing to depend on an economic system that is dependent on brick-and-mortar for revenue and has not yet met the demands of the 21st century.”

Kaegi is expected to seek election to a second term in 2022.

Kaegi Speech by AnnRWeiler on Scribd

 


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