County assessor responds to claims of unfair property values assessment

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios responded Monday to claims that his office favors the rich when it comes to assessing property values.

The system has been called broken and corrupt because it is based on appeals.

Berrios admitted that more affluent homeowners challenge their assessments, which shifts to the burden to poorer neighborhoods, but defended the system.

There are 1.85 million pieces of property in Cook County and, according to reports by the Chicago Tribune and University Of Chicago, homes in poorer neighborhoods are often overvalued, while properties in wealthier areas are undervalued. This means that poor residents, mainly minorities, are paying more in property taxes as a percentage of their homes value than homeowners in affluent areas.

"I've continued to reach out to all communities including minorities. There is no racism in this administration," Berrios said.

The appeal-based system has many critics, including Gov. Bruce Rauner and some of his Democratic opponents for governor.

He said half of residents who appeal their property taxes are successful. The Tribune's report said wealthier neighborhoods appealed at much higher rates than poorer ones and many use tax attorneys.

"It is not rigged or beneficial to those who use attorneys, in fact the majority of appeals filed with the assessor's office do not involve attorneys," Berrios said.

But, according to the Tribune, attorney's fees from residential appeals hit an all-time high in 2015. Many of the lawyers contributed to Berrios' campaign fund. The assessor is also the chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party.

On Monday, Berrios refused to say he would no longer accept contributions from tax lawyers.

"I take contributions from property tax lawyers and anyone else who wants to contribute to my campaign," Berrios said.

Berrios said attorneys who do not contribute to his campaign get the same treatment with appeals as those who do.

He defended the appeals system, adding that it's every homeowner's right.

Also, Berrios' office is expanding its outreach in poorer and minority neighborhoods so they can learn how to do appeals.
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