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Cook County assessor's tax reform bill skids in Springfield

Friday, May 31, 2019
Crain's Chicago Business

Cook County assessor's tax reform bill skids in Springfield

A House committee shelved a bill that would implement a key piece of Fritz Kaegi's new approach to valuing commercial properties.


A key piece of Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi's plan to overhaul the way his office values properties hit a roadblock today, as lawmakers shelved a bill he is counting on as a centerpiece of the new system.

The measure, dubbed the Data Modernization Bill, was buried in an Illinois House committee today as legislators work through details of the new rules it would create.

The bill proposes to force commercial property owners to disclose certain financial information to the assessor's office about a building's income, which Kaegi would use to help accurately calculate its value. That would be a far cry from the "baffling" method Kaegi says his predecessor, Joe Berrios, employed under a system that led to wildly variable property assessments and criticisms that many commercial properties were being undervalued.

Kaegi's bill, SB 1379, won Senate approval by a wide margin last month and was set for hearing today before it was pulled from the agenda.

The assessor's office "was informed by House leadership that (the bill) would not move out of the Rules Committee for a vote during the current legislative session," the office posted in a statement on its website.

The bill "remains the best, first legislative step toward reform of the property tax system," Kaegi said in the statement. "We'll be back next session to get it passed."

At issue in the bill are concerns about how Kaegi's office would use properties' highly sensitive financial information and especially how it would protect it. Kaegi's proposal would ensure those records wouldn't be subject to Illinois open records laws.

Kaegi needs state approval to be able to implement the new system and has been on a quest to promote the bill in recent months. That pursuit stands to continue as legislators wrap up their spring session tomorrow.

With or without the bill's passage, Kaegi has already shaken up the assessment system in a way that will likely push more of the local property tax burden onto commercial properties. In Evanston, one of the first local municipalities to be reassessed since Kaegi's election, some apartment buildings recently saw their assessed property values double or triple.

Those examples have sent shockwaves throughout the local commercial real estate market as the city of Chicago stares down its next reassessment in 2021. The uncertainty of how properties will be valued—and, more specifically, how big their property tax bills will be—has raised concerns among downtown landlords and prospective investors in the market.



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