* This ProPublica-Illinois deep dive into the Cook County Assessor’s office is definitely worth a read, but this is what stood out to me the most…
The assessor’s office encourages property owners to file an appeal if they are dissatisfied with an assessment. In cases where officials did not change a property’s initial estimate from one reassessment to the next, the vast majority of the owners appealed, government records show.
Seventy-four percent of those owners won reductions from the assessor — only to see the values snap right back to the same number in the next reassessment.
“There is no rationale for having no change in these initial valuations,” said Richard Almy, former executive director of the International Association of Assessing Officers. “Especially if the assessor later agreed to a reduction; there’s no earthly reason for them to go back to the same value.”
The repetitive process feeds a property tax appeal industry that provides the bulk of Berrios’ campaign contributions. Inaccurate assessments also help drive business to political allies who are property tax attorneys, including Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, the longest-serving state house speaker in U.S. history, and Alderman Edward Burke, the longtime chair of the Chicago City Council’s finance committee.
The office’s deputy assessor for communications, Tom Shaer, did not explain why thousands of first-pass values were identical over multiple reassessments under Berrios. The other findings from ProPublica Illinois and the Tribune are misleading, he said, and do not “do justice to the complexity” of Cook County’s assessment system.
“The study includes five years of the real estate crash,” Shaer wrote in an emailed response. “The crash played havoc with figures in certain industry measures used for this story, making them unreliable when evaluating the assessor’s work.”
A ProPublica Illinois-Chicago Tribune analysis of appeals data from the Cook County assessor’s office found that the firm of Madigan & Getzendanner dominates the market for commercial and industrial appeals in Cook County. Between 2011 and 2016, the firm filed appeals on properties that were initially assessed at nearly $8.6 billion. That is nearly $1 billion more than the second-place firm, Crane and Norcross.
A ProPublica Illinois-Chicago Tribune analysis of appeals data found that Berrios granted appeals for more than 34,000 commercial and industrial parcels in the 2012 Chicago reassessment and for about the same number again in 2015.
By contrast, former Assessor Houlihan approved only 17,596 appeals in 2009 — and that was the largest number since at least 2003.
Under Berrios, the analysis found, more than 70 percent of all commercial and industrial appeals filed with the assessor’s office resulted in reductions between 2011 and 2015, compared with 48 percent during the previous five-year period.
Every property tax assessment system requires an appeal process to ensure fairness and accuracy, and many jurisdictions across the country saw an uptick in appeals following the financial crisis, experts said. But the number of appeals in Cook County is extraordinarily high, far exceeding the total in New York, for example.
These appeals support an industry that provides more than half of Berrios’ campaign funds.
The most common test of accuracy is the coefficient of dispersion, or COD. It is, essentially, an error rate. For income-producing properties, the International Association of Assessing Officers sets the acceptable level of COD at 20. That means assessments are off by an average of 20 percent.
Under Berrios, the scores for commercial and industrial first-pass valuations have been as high as 133, ProPublica Illinois and the Tribune found. Though experts often allow complex jurisdictions like Cook County some leeway, they said those results are unacceptable.
The errors also have a bias. With lower-priced commercial and industrial properties, the assessor’s estimates tend to come in too high. At higher price points, assessments are often too low.
Known as regressivity, this pattern means the property tax system is unfair to people who own lower-value properties. Those taxpayers end up paying more, relative to the value of their property, than others do.
“The corruption from Joe Berrios and Mike Madigan is absolutely disgusting. For years, they have taken money from middle class families and small businesses to help line their own pockets, all the while propping up their political careers. If you want to know why Illinois has serious problems, look no further than Joe Berrios and Mike Madigan and their shameful practices of robbing hard-working Illinoisans to make themselves richer.” - Illinois Republican Party Spokesman Aaron DeGroot
…Adding… Press release…
Following is a statement from Fritz Kaegi, the progressive Democrat challenging incumbent Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios in the March 2018 primary election, in response to today’s Chicago Tribune/ProPublica investigative report on the corrupt practices of the current Assessor’s Office.
“The Chicago Tribune and ProPublica report again proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Assessor Joe Berrios has systematically and intentionally used his office to benefit the rich, powerful and politically connected, and has forced the Cook County residents who can least afford it to pay for the web of corruption in the form of massively inflated property tax bills.
“His brazen violation of the public trust is a disgrace, and the residents of Cook County are rightfully outraged.”
“As Assessor, I’ll get valuations right the first time. I’ll implement valuation models that are more uniform and that reflect current market conditions. I’ll be transparent in how valuations are reached. I’ll make available data and valuation standards to third parties, and hire a qualified, diverse workforce free from nepotism and favoritism. I will not accept donations from property tax appeals lawyers as a candidate or as assessor, and I am committed to the immediate separation of political influence from the assessment process.”
…Adding… Another press release…
Earlier this week, J.B. Pritzker was challenged on reporting relatively little income despite his $3.4 billion net worth. Given the Pritzker family history of avoiding taxes in offshore trusts, Pritzker’s multiple responses were vague at best.
Today, two of Pritzker’s chief backers, Speaker Mike Madigan and Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios, are the subject of a Chicago Tribune story investigating the corrupt racket surrounding property tax assessments.
From the Tribune report:
“The repetitive process feeds a property tax appeal industry that provides the bulk of Berrios’ campaign contributions. Inaccurate assessments also help drive business to political allies who are property tax attorneys, including Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.”
Pritzker has been intimately involved with this racket, securing a $230,000 tax break from Berrios on his Gold Coast mansion after having the toilets disconnected from a neighboring property so that it would be declared uninhabitable.
Between Pritzker’s history of gaming the tax system, his undisclosed offshore interests, and now today’s revelations surrounding Berrios and Madigan, how can Illinoisans trust another corrupt insider?