- Apr 18, 2019
Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi was elected in 2018 on a platform to improve transparency, accuracy and fairness in the assessment process. Those efforts may involve significant growing pains, as commercial property owners have begun to see dramatically increased valuations in their assessment notices. According to Crain’s Chicago Business, landlords of large rental properties in Evanston — one of the first townships to be reassessed under the new regime — have already seen assessed values double or almost triple.
Appearing at the Chamber’s April Board of Directors meeting, Cook County Commissioner Scott Britton noted his concern for reassessments under his jurisdiction in Northfield Township, which will be taking place at the end of May. “It seems like a lot of the commercial properties are going to see some increases, in some cases significant increases,” said Britton. “Fritz Kaegi is bringing a lot of reforms to the assessor’s office. That’s good…. But if you’re going to see a significant increase in your property taxes, I want to make sure that it’s done fairly and sometimes I think those increases may be a little bit out of line. My staff and I are going to be available to help both individuals and businesses for any help they need with the tax structure.”
One of the proposals sought to support Kaegi’s reform efforts is under consideration in Springfield. House Bill 2217, in committee at press time, is a “data modernization” bill that Kaegi argues will improve the accuracy of initial assessments for businesses, thereby reducing the need for appeals. The law would require some owners of commercial property to submit data on the income produced by the property, including federal income tax information (such as Internal Revenue Service Schedule E or Schedule 8825), annual reports, rent rolls, and annual income and expense statements. The proposed bill would exempt commercial properties with a market value under $400,000 and residential properties with six or fewer units, or with a market value under $1 million. The requirements would apply only in Cook County.
In an interview with WTTW-TV, the assessor argued that new disclosure requirements would benefit commercial investors by reducing the prevalence of appeals.
“We think it will de-risk our assessment system by providing more transparency and also encouraging investment in the county by being able to publish really accurate data on real estate market conditions,” said Kaegi. Since this type of data is regularly submitted as part of an appeal, Kaegi sees the information as a tool to produce assessments that reflect market realities.
During his visit to the Chamber, Britton noted that several other large cities have similar disclosure requirements and commented that he believes the data will be adequately protected for privacy within the assessor’s office. Some critics of the law remain concerned. The Illinois Retail Merchants Association (IRMA) stated on its website, “We share the goal of a more accurate and transparent assessment process but believe the proposal in its current form is highly flawed. Just to name a few examples of issues that must be hammered out in detail include definitions, privacy, scope of data, program evaluation, etc. This is a highly technical area where the smallest omission or error can have grave consequences.”