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A Higher Tax Rate Magnifies the Impact of Inaccurate Assessments

By Gary Smith
A Higher Tax Rate Magnifies the Impact of Inaccurate Assessments

Since 2009, Cook County has increased its tax rate from 4.6 percent to 7.1 percent, magnifying the impact of inaccurate assessments on which property taxes are based. Property owners may be stuck with the higher tax rate, but they can appeal their property assessments. And they do.

High Property Taxes Lead to Berrios’ Outster

Notices about assessed value are sent in late summer and early fall, every three years. Cook County is broken up into three parts, North of the city, South of the city and the city of Chicago itself. In 2015, the last year properties in the city of Chicago were assessed, appeals were filed on 37 percent of all assessed parcels and 9 percent of single-family homes.

Last year, when the South suburbs were assessed, there was a record number of appeals, with 27 percent of all parcels and 21 percent of all single-family homes.

Although the Cook County Assessor’s Office contends that more appeals are filed because it’s easier to do so since the office added an online system, others claim it’s because oftentimes the assessments are so inaccurate that they are higher than the market value on the property. And when property owners are paying $7.10 for every $100 in equalized assessed value, even smaller inaccuracies count.

In Cook County, homeowners and businesses can appeal tax bills to the assessor’s office, the Cook County Board of Review, the state Property Tax Appeal Board and Circuit Court. Residents are not required to use a real estate tax lawyer to file a property tax appeal, but many do to improve their chances of achieving a significantly lower tax bill. If a business wants to appeal to the Cook County Board of Review, a lawyer is required.

One of the complaints about outgoing Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrio’s assessment system was that it depended heavily on the appeals process to arrive at accurate valuations. Critics contend that this was because Berrios was supported by city tax lawyers.

Complaints about unfair assessments in low-income neighborhoods and undervaluing of high-end properties in Chicago led to current Berrios’ ouster in the Democratic primaries held earlier this year. Come December, Frederick “Fritz” Kaegi, a former mutual fund manager, will take over the office. Not much is known about how he will handle the property assessment process.