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Year in Review: Cook County Property Tax Assessment Reform

By Gary Smith
Year in Review: Cook County Property Tax Assessment Reform

It has been one year since Fritz Kaegi took over the Cook County Assessor’s office, and since then, he has instituted reforms, including transparency and uniformity in estimating the fair market value of each property.

Commercial Property Assessments See Big Adjustment

Cook County assessments are interconnected because the state divides municipal levies through assessed property values. That means one homeowner’s property tax rate is dependent on how all other properties, including commercial properties, are assessed.

Cook County is divided into three areas, each assessed every three years. The first year under the new system impacted just the northern suburbs. The commercial property assessments were significantly higher than they were in the past. However, that doesn’t mean tax rates are higher. In fact, according to Kaegi, tax rates typically drop as there is more taxable value to equitably distribute the levies.

The large, upward, adjustments on commercial assessments provided under the new system have caused concern about rental prices and vacancies among industry groups that focus on the commercial market. Office vacancy is at its lowest point since 2016, according to Kaegi.  Fortunately, despite higher assessments, numerous investors have announced deals in Chicago within the last few months.

The Illinois Legislature is considering SB1379, the Data Modernization Bill, which would give the assessor’s office more accurate information on commercial properties because it would require commercial property owners to submit income and expense data related to each property annually to the assessor’s office. Right now, the Cook County Assessor’s office doesn’t have a lot of that information.

Transparency Is Key

Another change under Kaegi has included the publishing of data and methodology on the Cook County Assessor’s website.

The first round of assessments done under the new system for single-family homes met the International Association of Assessing Officers’ standards for fairness in 10 of 13 reassessed townships.

Another reform that has been put in place is automating the senior homestead exemptions so that once those exemptions are in place, they do not need to be continually renewed by elderly homeowners.

Kaegi also has plans to expand staffing in the assessment division, which will bring it more in line with other assessor’s offices nationwide. The office also plans to purchase more data collection tools and digitize work that was previously done manually, including handwriting the characteristics for commercial properties.