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Kaegi: 'The embrace of a failed status quo makes no sense'
The Cook County Assessor vows to continue policies that have shifted property tax load, but he hinted that his methods might play out differently in different parts of the county.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020
Crain's Chicago Business
by Greg Hinz

Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi today issued a full-throated defense of new policies that have begun to shift more of the property tax load to commercial properties, asserting that Chicago would not be served by a return to “corruption.”

But in a speech at the City Club of Chicago, Kaegi, just beginning his second year in office, hinted that his methods might play out differently in different sections of the county, especially the southern suburbs.

Kaegi’s hallmark has been to use new, arguably more accurate assessment systems and pair them with much more public disclosure of the details of how his office determines the tax value of properties.

In the northern third of the county, where Kaegi just completed the triennial reassessment process, that’s led to big changes—and even bigger howls from some office and other commercial properties.

Overall, Kaegi said, the share of the property tax assessment base that is owned-occupied residential dropped 10 percentage points, from 66 percent of the total to 56 percent. That drop for homeowners was shifted to commercial owners, who saw their share of the tax load leap from 34 percent to 44 percent. Note that those figures still can be revised on appeal to the County Board of Review, and they deal only with assessments, not taxes per se.

Some owners want him to slow down as he moves to south suburbs, which are now being reassessed, and the city, which will be examined in 2021. Some even threatened to move out of state.

But Kaegi pointed to a recent article by my colleague Alby Gallun as proof that the howls of protest are exaggerated and that his assessments, while by no means perfect, are closer to actual market values than those of predecessor Joe Berrios. Kaegi made it clear he has no intention of turning back the clock.

“The embrace of a failed status quo makes no sense,” he declared. “The Illinois tax code instructs us to assess all property fairly and accurately and not look the other way to the advantage of a select few.”

It’s not a fair tax system but “corruption” that has held Chicago back from economic development, Kaegi said, apparently referring to the use of political connected property tax lawyers by some commercial owners to get their assessments down. The new approach “is crucial for (creating) a pro-growth environment that promotes investment.”

That having been said, Kaegi underlined that it’s too early to tell how his new systems will affect other portions of the county.

For instance, he said, the south suburbs have a much smaller commercial property base than the northern suburbs, and the market value of many properties has acted in a different fashion than in the north. As a result, end assessments will "not necessarily" change in the same way there.

Kaegi did not specifically discuss the city and the central area of Chicago, but it bears some similarity to the northern suburbs, with commercial values generally rising much faster than those of homes.

Kaegi did have one other bit of information that will interest some: As of next month, those filing permits for all residential exemptions, like the homestead exemption, have the option to do so online at the assessor’s website.

He urged passage of pending legislation that would give his office access to more owner data in commercial assessments, such as income tax filings. The bill stalled last year but recently was endorsed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Kaegi said such data is widely employed by assessors in other states and stressed that it would be strictly for internal office use and not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests from competitors.



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