Cook County’s Property Tax System Burdens the Poor, Blesses the Rich, Shows Tribune Report

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A three-part Chicago Tribune investigation reveals gaping inequities in Cook County’s property tax system. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017 || By Local News Curator || @maywoodnews

A comprehensive three-part investigative report by the Chicago Tribune’s Jason Grotto lays bare not only Cook County’s deeply unfair system of taxing property, but also what appears to have been deep negligence and/or blithe neglect on the part of Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios.

The Tribune’s report “reveals that for years the county’s property tax system created an unequal burden on residents, handing huge financial breaks to homeowners who are well-off while punishing those who have the least, particularly people living in minority communities.”

Those communities include Bellwood, Broadview, Maywood and Melrose Park — all “working-class neighborhoods” where property owners “were more likely to receive property tax bills that assumed their homes were worth more than their true market value, the Tribune found.”

“Meanwhile, many living in the county’s wealthier and mostly white communities — including Winnetka, Glencoe, Lakeview and the Gold Coast — caught a break because property taxes weren’t based on the full value of their homes.”

The Tribune report concluded that the tax assessments “have been so far off the mark for so many years that the credibility of the entire property tax system is in doubt.”

A statement by the assessor’s office countered that it “believes the valuation and uniformity opinions formed by the Chicago Tribune are not sufficiently credible.”

The Tribune reports that, contrary to the assessor’s office boast about its state-of-the-art computer models, the office’s system is actually quite faulty. Sure, the report claims, property owners who have issues with their assessments can appeal, but the tax appeal process is one utilized much more often by the wealthy.

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And, since 2009, “Cook County’s assessments have been so inaccurate they violated standards set by the International Association of Assessing Officers, a professional organization that develops guidelines used around the world.”

Among the people the Tribune talked to is Melrose Park resident Barbara Garner, who lives in a home that’s smaller than 800 square feet. She pays more than $4,000 a year in property taxes, the Tribune reported.

The problem?

“Garner’s tax bill was higher than she expected because the assessor overshot the price she paid for the house by a factor of two, the Tribune found. The county had valued the home at $164,640, just months before she bought it for $75,000.”

The Tribune report shows that the assessor’s office has exhibited a pattern of overvaluing lower priced homes. In 2009, the office “had overvalued lower-priced homes by as much as 150 percent.”

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Part 2 of the Tribune investigation shows that, “On average, even after appeals, people who own homes in the bottom 25 percent of values paid nearly $500 more a year in property taxes than they would have if the system were fair, the research shows.

“The reason: Wealthier neighborhoods appealed at much higher rates and regularly received significant assessment reductions even though homes in those areas were more likely to be undervalued. In poorer neighborhoods, homeowners not only are more likely to have their properties overvalued by the assessor, they are less likely to appeal.”

Part 3 reveals that, “For more than a decade, the Cook County assessor’s office hid a secret inside the massive computer programs used to calculate property tax assessments for single-family homes.”

That secret “created erroneous valuations for homes throughout the county, affecting the tax bills sent to more than 1 million residential property owners every year.

“What the code did was deceptively simple: It decreased every estimated home value in the county by about 40 percent, a troubling practice that ignored legal requirements set out in county ordinances.”

Read the entire 3-part Tribune investigation in full here. VFP

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One thought on “Cook County’s Property Tax System Burdens the Poor, Blesses the Rich, Shows Tribune Report”

  1. This really not surprise me at all. Cook County has a long history of corruption and mishandling a lot of residents with tax dollars. This is systematic prejudice and residents really need to discuss these issues with their politicians that they elected, so there will be reform for all residents to have equal property tax system.

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