Letter to the Editor: In defense of Cook County Assessor’s Office

To the Editor

Please allow the Cook County Assessor’s Office to address recent inaccuracies about property assessment.

The Civic Consulting Alliance (CCA) is studying the assessment and appeal processes, including Assessor’s Office procedures, assessment models, the Cook County Board Review and other aspects. Assessor Joseph Berrios welcomed the CCA study.

The study’s timing has been questioned, and Berrios was criticized for it. However, critics and media have ignored the fact that CCA does not report to the assessor. He has absolutely no authority over their timetable.

To be clear, the assessor’s only responsibility is to fully cooperate with the study. He continues to do that and provides study personnel with office space. Assessor Berrios respects the CCA study that, unlike others, includes assessment professionals.

When discussing taxes, please keep in mind that assessors don’t set tax rates. Also, the State Equalizer has gone down dramatically since Berrios became assessor, an indication of fair assessments.

The Cook County Assessor’s Office again states, unequivocally, that its estimated property values are fair and accurate. There is no rampant overassessment of lower-market homes or under-valuation of higher ones.

Previous administrations employed the same assessment model now in use, and they were not criticized. Berrios is criticized, and his improvements at the Assessor’s Office are dismissed.

Some observers without assessment experience say Cook County should use a recently developed assessment model. In fact, after initial enthusiasm for that new model, our staff found it did not work when full implementation was attempted.

Accomplishments of the Berrios administration were disregarded in the criticisms. For example, the administration has six straight years of on-time assessments leading to timely tax bills. Previously, bills were repeatedly late for 34 years.

On-time revenue for schools, etc. eliminates $5 to $6 million countywide in monthly interest on borrowing while awaiting revenue. In the 13 years before Berrios was elected, 39 late months were accumulated. Berrios’ zero late months saved taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, and counting.

Past assessors left erroneous exemptions unchecked. Berrios designed the law that recovers this would-be lost money and returns it to school districts, communities and municipalities. To date, $47.2 million has been billed.

Berrios conceived and helped pass legislation, which went into affect in August, giving lower-income homeowners greater flat-rate, money-saving exemptions.

For appeals awareness, CCAO has raised annual community appearances to 238 – with 81 percent in areas with lower-market homes.

None of these things were acknowledged in recent reports.

With 47 years of public service, Joseph Berrios knows assessing Cook County’s 1.85 million properties is difficult. But he gets the job done, works to ensure fairness and to improve the system.

Tom Shaer,

Deputy Assessor for Communications,

Cook County Assessor’s Office

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