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What happens when a downtown-friendly assessor is dumped?

Tuesday, Apr 16, 2019

* The first round of assessments under new Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi has some Evanston businesses upset, but it’s what the people voted for last year

The assessor’s estimated value of some apartment buildings in the northern suburb [of Evanston] have doubled or even tripled, fueling fears that a massive property tax increase is coming next year. […]

Landlords have been bracing for big hikes since Kaegi was elected assessor last year, promising to reform the office and improve the accuracy of its assessments. Kaegi replaced Joe Berrios, who was harshly criticized for undervaluing commercial properties and being too cozy with property tax appeals attorneys who represent some of the biggest landlords in town. The result: Cook County homeowners bear more of the tax burden than they should, and commercial landlords bear less, said Berrios’ critics.

As landlords in Evanston are learning, that is almost certain to change under Kaegi, who says Cook County has “the least accurate assessment system of any major jurisdiction of the U.S.” Fixing that is his top priority—not worrying about how the tax burden is distributed. […]

If there is a silver lining, at least in the near term, it’s that higher assessments on commercial properties in Cook County are likely to result in lower taxes for many homeowners. In Evanston, for instance, the assessed value of all residential property rose 25 percent from 2018 to 2019, while the assessed value of all commercial and industrial property rose 125 percent. The wide gap suggests that taxes will rise for commercial and industrial landlords in the suburb when property tax bills come out next year but drop for Evanston homeowners.

The math is complicated. While some property owners assume that their tax bill will double after their assessment doubles, it doesn’t work that way. A taxpayer’s final bill depends on the relative change in assessed values among properties and a process known as equalization that was created to ensure fairness in the system. It also hinges on the tax levy, or how much local governments decide to collect in property taxes in a given year.

It’s downplayed in the piece, but homeowners are the ones who benefit from this tax shift.

* Downtown will soon feel the sting

Willis Tower illustrates the potential pain downtown. The 110-story tower sold for $1.3 billion in 2015, but its 2017 property tax bill shows the assessor valued it at only $579 million. Applying that year’s nearly 7.3 percent commercial property tax rate, which was calculated based on revenue needs for the dozen taxing bodies that pulled in money from Cook County property taxes, the tower’s tax bill was $31.2 million, county records show.

Based on a $1.05 billion valuation—the portion of the sale excluding personal property, which is not taxable—that tower’s tax bill would have been far higher. By applying a hypothetical 5.5 percent tax rate for the 2017 year using publicly available data that accounted for all commercial properties being assessed by Kaegi’s definition of market value, a study by tax property law firm O’Keefe Lyons & Hynes estimates Willis Tower’s tax bill would have been around $42.5 million, or 36 percent more than it actually was. […]

A report last year from tenant brokerage Savills comparing the average cost of rent, operating expenses, taxes and utilities for office users in major markets found that downtown Chicago in 2017 came in at a little more than $50 per square foot, lower than downtown Manhattan ($58), west Los Angeles ($63), Boston ($69), Washington ($71) and San Francisco ($80).

That makes Chicago a relative value play, especially for big corporations that can absorb a few extra dollars per square foot in property taxes. The bigger blow could be dealt to small and midsize, privately held companies already in the city that might endure a sudden, more painful hit to their bottom lines, says Savills Vice Chairman Robert Sevim.

I assume that human nature being what it is, building owners facing skyrocketing assessments will shovel big money at property tax appeals lawyers. Kaegi, in other words, could turn out to be fantastic for Mike Madigan’s law firm.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

23 Comments
  1. - Downstate - Tuesday, Apr 16, 19 @ 1:44 pm:

    Another challenge is that higher property taxes will suppress the market value of the properties. In turn, banks won’t be willing to lend as much against the property. That makes it tougher for property owners to make necessary maintenance and improvements, further reducing the property values.

    I’m seeing this play out, from a banking perspective, in other locales.


  2. - Lucky Pierre - Tuesday, Apr 16, 19 @ 1:46 pm:

    Politicians/ Lawyers raising property taxes sky high and then cutting them for their clients for 1/3 to 1/2 of the first year savings. And some want the Assessor appointed, not elected.

    No wonder we lead the nation in distrust of state government.


  3. - lakeside - Tuesday, Apr 16, 19 @ 1:51 pm:

    Willis Tower illustrates the [scam that’s been going on for years] downtown. The 110-story tower sold for $1.3 billion in 2015, but its 2017 property tax bill shows the assessor valued it at only $579 million.


  4. - sewer thoughts - Tuesday, Apr 16, 19 @ 1:56 pm:

    Downstate, the market isn’t a win-win solution - there will be a balancing if property values go down, as then their assessed value in a fair system will also go down. Investments are hard and not for everyone.


  5. - Fax Machine - Tuesday, Apr 16, 19 @ 2:01 pm:

    We’ll see what the Board of Review does with Kaegi’s valuations when they open up for 2019 appeals this summer. It’s possible they could be of the opinion that the property tax code and relevant court precedent requires them to bring these commercial assessments back in line with where they had been.


  6. - Juvenal - Tuesday, Apr 16, 19 @ 2:07 pm:

    We should start requiring 501(c)(6) organizations to pay property taxes.

    That would provide some sizeable property tax relief.


  7. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Apr 16, 19 @ 2:08 pm:

    –No wonder we lead the nation in distrust of state government.–

    If only people were allowed to vote for their lawmakers….

    BTW — where do you think the guy whose talking-points you still robotically chant ranks in the “trust” department — among Republicans?

    Did he leave a bridge unburned by accident?


  8. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Apr 16, 19 @ 2:09 pm:

    ===ranks in the “trust” department — among Republicans?===

    Among anyone, for that matter. The man’s word was simply no good.


  9. - Matthew Dean - Tuesday, Apr 16, 19 @ 2:10 pm:

    The math for property taxes is fairly simple. Cost of government divided by equalized AV of all properties in the county equals the tax rate. In theory, Assessor Kaegi’s increased values should result in a lower property tax rate. My concern is with the numerator in the formula. Cost of government almost never goes down, hence the increased tax rate year over year. This may all be theater as the Board of Review will bring values back in-line in accordance to Article IX, Section 4(a) of the constitution.


  10. - DuPage Bard - Tuesday, Apr 16, 19 @ 2:12 pm:

    So do these new assessments have any impact on downtown TIF districts?
    Will the TIF actually have more money wrapped into it because of the initial lower valuation at the outset of the TIF?


  11. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Apr 16, 19 @ 2:14 pm:

    === Cost of government almost never goes down===

    Almost?

    I mean, they thought they could make that happen in Kansas and look how it turned out.


  12. - Sox Fan - Tuesday, Apr 16, 19 @ 2:17 pm:

    ==I assume that human nature being what it is, building owners facing skyrocketing assessments will shovel big money at property tax appeals lawyers. Kaegi, in other words, could turn out to be fantastic for Mike Madigan’s law firm.==

    Most building owners already have attorneys working on a contingency fee basis. The question is will property owners be smart enough to place caps on the amount their attorneys will be able to charge if the board of review starts cutting some of these assessments


  13. - Anon - Tuesday, Apr 16, 19 @ 3:07 pm:

    Rich.

    You are better than that. There is a massive gap between having among the highest property taxes in the country with no end in site and trying to be like Kansas.

    In the last week you have used California as an example of how we can tax our way to prosperity (ignoring completely that California is California) and now any a thoroughly condescending remark about how anyone who even questions the parabolic taxing and spending rates in Illinois wants to be like Kansas.

    That is hardly the even handed and insightful approach that has traditionally brought people to this site.


  14. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Apr 16, 19 @ 3:10 pm:

    ===about how anyone who even questions the parabolic taxing and spending rates in Illinois wants to be like Kansas===

    That is a complete, total misrepresentation of what I wrote. I mean, it’s not even on the same planet of what I wrote. Bite me.


  15. - Paddyrollingstone - Tuesday, Apr 16, 19 @ 3:15 pm:

    I live in Evanston and my assessment went up by like 50%. At least I didn’t vote for Fritz so I am not surprised.


  16. - Nagidam - Tuesday, Apr 16, 19 @ 3:22 pm:

    Kaegi also has legislation to mandate certain rental income items be disclosed to the assessor. He will build a database off this data and further refine his assessment model for income producing properties. Assessments are only as good as the data. Madigan et al can contest the values but if the assessor has enough data then it shouldn’t matter if there are high priced lawyers being paid to lower the assessments.


  17. - Chicagonk - Tuesday, Apr 16, 19 @ 3:41 pm:

    Willis Tower and a lot of the downtown buildings are in a TIF that doesn’t expire until 2030. It definitely looks like with the changes being made that the amount of excess TIF funds available in this district will be substantial. I’m sure a lot of politicians are going to start salivating over what to do with those funds.


  18. - jim - Tuesday, Apr 16, 19 @ 3:48 pm:

    BTW — where do you think the guy whose talking-points you still robotically chant ranks in the “trust” department — among Republicans?

    Did he leave a bridge unburned by accident?

    - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Apr 16, 19 @ 2:09 pm:

    ===ranks in the “trust” department — among Republicans?===

    Among anyone, for that matter. The man’s word was simply no good.
    what/who are you talking about?


  19. - The Way I See It - Tuesday, Apr 16, 19 @ 4:30 pm:

    I am another Evanston resident who saw his assessment jump 50%. Almost enough to make me into a Republican


  20. - Stuntman Bob's Brother - Tuesday, Apr 16, 19 @ 4:47 pm:

    “Kaegi, in other words, could turn out to be fantastic for Mike Madigan’s law firm”

    But only if the subsequent appeals are successful. If the assessments are accurate to begin with, the appeals should fall flat, unless the process is stacked with folks who deal from the bottom of the deck. Ideally, Kaegi’s office should make it HARDER for tax appeal firms to make money, not easier. We shall see.


  21. - Anon - Tuesday, Apr 16, 19 @ 4:54 pm:

    Good. Berrios’ office was promoting a massive upward redistribution of wealth, from poorer areas who couldn’t afforded politically-connected property tax lawyers to well-heeled downtown businesses. Kaegi is at least taking steps to undo that. The property tax appeal business is a blight on the city, state, and Democratic party establishment and should be ended or made unremunerative by any appropriate legal means.


  22. - VerySmallRocks - Tuesday, Apr 16, 19 @ 5:11 pm:

    All the more reason to get a fair, progressive income tax instituted and stop over relying on property taxes to pay primarily for schools. It may not reduce the shenanigans of property valuation, but make it less damaging.


  23. - revvedup - Tuesday, Apr 16, 19 @ 6:38 pm:

    After being a homeowner for 24 years in an overtaxed southern suburb of Chicago, I am glad to no longer be subsidizing more affluent areas. My property taxes are half what they used to be.


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