Fritz Kaegi’s victory over current Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios in the Democratic primary included a message of reform to an office that has long been in need. But overcoming the entrenched bureaucracy to overhaul the county’s property tax system will be a difficult task.
Changes Won’t Happen Overnight
Berrios, on his way out, has pledged to revamp the residential assessment system that impacts 1.4 residential parcels. This includes creating, testing and deploying a new valuation model before the city of Chicago’s assessments go out for this year. That also means that if a new system is put into place before December when Kaegi is sworn in, he will inherit the new system.
Unfortunately, Cook County residents have heard about changes to the residential assessment system before, such as in 2015 when the office supposedly adopted a new model funded by the MacArthur Foundation, which was going to increase accuracy by 50 percent and fairness by 25 percent. However, reporting showed that the new system was never implemented.
Even if Berrios doesn’t implement a new system on his way out, by the time a new assessor takes office and is able to enact major changes, the assessments won’t be affected until the year after the changes are made. And it will be another six months before anyone sees a tax bill reflecting those changes.
Cook County is unique in that it has another avenue for property tax appeals—the Cook County Board of Review. Experts say that even if a new assessor is able to improve the accuracy and fairness of the assessment process, it could still fall apart unless reforms are also made to the elected three-member panel that also hears appeals.
Reason for Hope
A reason to hope, for those who are frustrated by the ongoing saga of high property taxes, comes from a civil rights and fair housing lawsuit filed by three public interest law firms. This lawsuit, which will continue after the new assessor takes office, could provide independent oversight and monitoring to residential assessments.
In addition, since Kaegi campaigned on a platform of reform, watchers are hopeful that regardless of how quickly changes are implemented, there will be a new era of transparency for the office.