Cook Co. asks for outside review of property tax assessment system

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Cook County Board President is asking for outside help to review its property tax assessment system as Assessor Joseph Berrios faces questions from members of the county's finance committee.

With 1.5 million residential properties to assess, Berrios defended a system many say is inequitable. Facing questions from the Cook County Board Commissioners, Berrios' answers left some lawmakers frustrated.

"My concern is whether poor people in Cook County are getting the shaft," said Cook Co. Commissioner Chuy Garcia.

Berrios was in the hot seat as he defended the way his office assesses property values.

"We are not trying to shaft anyone, using your terminology - anyone in Cook County," Berrios said.

Berrios has been under fire since reports from the Chicago Tribune and the University of Chicago show that properties in poor and minority neighborhoods are over-taxed compared to wealthier areas.

"I'm not saying Joe Berrios or anyone on his staff is racist, I am saying based on the data the assessment system have produced racially discriminatory taxes," said Chris Berry, University of Chicago.

Berry said the average home that sold for $100,000 was assessed at 11 percent, compared to 7.8 percent for the average $1 million home.

Despite the data, the first minority to serve as Cook County Assessor, said the system is not regressive. He said his office tries to get the assessment as accurate as possible.

"Does anyone really think I would allow unfair treatment in minority communities? I stand for equality in everything I do," he said.

With so many questions swirling, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced a third party review of the property tax system Tuesday, but many said fixing the system - not reviewing it - is what's needed.

"I'm a college professor. You know if I say one more study is not needed, there are one too many," Berry said.

Fritz Kaegi, who is running against Berrios for Cook County Assessor, also attended Tuesday's packed hearing. Kaegi was disappointed there was not more discussion about the campaign contributions Berrios receives from tax attorneys. Berrios said he will continue to take the contributions because they are legal.
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