Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios is facing continued pressure over widespread inequities in the Cook County property tax system.
Homeowners in Chicago have complained for years about the complicated and arcane tax assessments for homeowners in Cook County.
The controversy gained a huge amount of publicity from the Chicago Tribune investigative series The Tax Divide published this summer. Their investigation uncovered evidence that the Cook County property tax system helped wealthy homeowners at others’ expense.
The Tribune alleged that the Cook County Assessors Office routinely overvalued homes in poor neighborhoods while undervaluing homes in wealthier ones. This has led to inequities in property tax bills, giving wealthy homeowners lower tax assessments while unfairly placing a great burden on fixed and low-income residents.
Contesting your property tax assessment is not a simple process and can be even more difficult for homeowners with fixed incomes. For many of those most likely to receive overvalued assessment, hiring an attorney to help contest their property value is not an option.
It doesn’t help Berrios’ case that tax appeal lawyers are major contributors to his campaign. They have contributed over 2 million dollars to his campaign but he has declared there is no conflict of interest.
These stories have galvanized property owners in Chicago to place pressure on government agencies to investigate. The Cook County inspector general has opened an investigation. State and local lawmakers have proposed new legislation to limit the assessor’s ability to raise campaign contributions from tax attorneys. A new bill has been introduced in the General Assembly that would require greater transparency in the assessment process.
Joseph Berrios has recently been called before the Cook County Board for questioning and his office was accused by some of being guilty of institutional racism.
Formal mayor candidate Jesus Chuy Garcia stated: “My concern is whether the poor people in Cook County are getting the shaft.” “That is what I want to avoid, and I want to know when it will cease because it shouldn’t be tolerated.”
Berrios repeated his previous assertions that the assessments are fair and accurate. He did not, however, offer any detailed evidence.
After the meeting, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced that a group called Civic Consulting Alliance would perform a review of the property tax assessment system.
The controversy has reached a point where it seems there will be either change to the system or political repercussions.
Even though Joseph Berrios faced tough questioning from the Cook County board, he remains highly influential as the Chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party. Many of the people he faced in the meeting rely on him and the party for political support.
Needless to say, it will be interesting to see what happens next.
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The Tax Divide – Chicago Tribune
Cook County Assessor Faces Questions About Property Tax Inequity – ProPublica
A Troubling Assessment of Joseph Berrios – Better Government Association
Cook County leaders pile on Assessor Joe Berrios – Daily Herald
Outsider to Review Cook County Assessment Process – Chicago Tonight
Joe Berrios Will Continue To Accept Campaign Cash From Tax Lawyers – CBS Chicago
Sen. Biss to introduce overhaul to property tax assessments – Chicago Tribune
Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios Grilled on Property Tax System – Chicago Tonight
Taxes header image by DonkeyHotey - Taxes ahead sign by 401(K) 2012