The Daily Northwestern

Group releases report on unequal Cook County property assessments

State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) speaks at an event. Biss said in a news release last week that wealthy homeowners “exploit” the system for tax breaks.

State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) speaks at an event. Biss said in a news release last week that wealthy homeowners “exploit” the system for tax breaks.

Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) speaks at an event. Biss said in a news release last week that wealthy homeowners “exploit” the system for tax breaks.

Alan Perez, Assistant Campus Editor

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An independent study released last week asserts that Cook County property assessments have given tax breaks to wealthy homeowners at the expense of poorer homeowners.

The Civic Consulting Alliance report, conducted at the request of County officials, found that the property assessment system causes a “wealth transfer from owners of lower-value homes to those of higher-value homes.” The news follows months of assertions by the County Assessor’s office that the process was fair.

The defense came in response to criticism that assessments were unequal, but even after the report found assessor Joseph Berrios’ practices were faulty, he repeated claims that he inherited a flawed system.

“As I have said from the start of the process, my priority is to ensure that the assessment system is fair and equitable for every Cook County resident,” Berrios said in a Feb. 15 news release. “I am committed to implementing all of the solutions identified as part of the analysis.”

Critics, however, say he’s been slow to fix the system.

Gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy and Gov. Bruce Rauner have called for Berrios’ resignation after an analysis by ProPublica Illinois and the Chicago Tribune in December found inequities in many property tax assessments. Berrios was also fined in January by the county ethics board for accepting campaign donations from property tax appeals lawyers above the legal limit.

The computer program used by the county produces property values outside the target range of industry standards, the report found. While a second review by staff improved the assessment, it also introduced “systematic bias” by considering recent sale prices of properties, violating industry standards, according to the report.

The report asserts that the county’s model overvalues low-value homes and undervalues higher-value homes. It also found a high number of appeals by residents compared to other jurisdictions, which also increases the “variability and regressivity” of assessments after reductions are granted. The majority of appeals come from owners of homes worth over $1 million, according to the report.

Civic Consulting Alliance, the organization that conducted the study, is a nonpartisan and nonprofit consulting firm that analyzes public-private sector relationships in the Chicago area. The group suggested in the study that the county limit the number of appeals to reduce regressivity and “overhaul” the assessment technological infrastructure. It also suggested the county perform ongoing monitoring of data quality.

Berrios said he is open to implementing these proposals, as did Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Berrios, also the chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, is up for reelection this year.

State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), a gubernatorial candidate, said wealthy homeowners “exploit” the system for tax breaks.

“Middle class families like mine don’t need a study or high-priced consultant to tell us property taxes are stacked against us,” he said in a news release last week. “We all understand that the system is rigged, but that’s where the similarities end: I have a personal stake in fixing the system while my opponents benefit from its continuation.”

Twitter: @_perezalan_