Myths versus Facts
Myths versus Facts:
Fact checking the claims of Fritz Kaegi’s opponents
Our opponents have made a lot of false claims about Fritz’s work to reform the broken Cook County property tax system. Here are the facts. We pride ourselves on being accountable, transparent and responsive. So if you have any questions or concerns that aren’t addressed here, please reach out to us anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll work hard to get back to you quickly.
THE CLAIM: Fritz is a wall street banker.
THE FACTS: Fritz has never been a ‘Wall Street banker.’ Fritz’s opponents are working to deceive voters about his background, just like they did when he was running against Joe Berrios. You can read all about Fritz’s background and experience here.
THE CLAIM: Fritz’s opponents claim he has not done enough to reduce property taxes.
THE FACTS: Fritz’s team is working every day to make sure property taxes are fair, and that the very wealthy and big corporations are paying their fair share.
In fact, according to the Cook County Treasurer, almost half of all Cook County homeowners—both city and suburbs—have seen their tax bills fall this year.
For homeowners whose tax bills increased, the average was only 1 percent in every area that was reassessed, according to Crain’s Chicago Business and the Chicago Tribune. Those whose tax bills have gone up the most are the owners of large downtown commercial buildings like the Willis Tower, who the previous assessor grossly under-assessed.
The main reason property taxes are still too high is due to local taxing districts continuing to increase their levies. Each year he has been in office, Fritz has called for more state and federal funding to bring down local tax rates. In addition, appeals by larger commercial properties to other offices of the Cook County property tax system, like the Property Tax Appeals Board, increases the tax burden on residents.
THE CLAIM: Fritz’s opponents say his reforms are hurting Black and Latinx communities the most.
THE FACTS: Fritz has been working tirelessly to reform a broken property tax system that inflated property taxes for majority Black and Latino communities, while letting downtown skyscrapers and big corporations off the hook. While the property tax system still needs more reform, his work to make sure big corporations and the very wealthy are paying their fair share is reducing the property tax burden on homeowners in Black and Latino areas.
According to the Cook County Treasurer, 14 of 35 majority Black or Latino communities saw their residents’ tax bills decline last year due, in large part, to Fritz Kaegi’s work in the assessor’s office.
In initial assessments, Fritz reduced the share of residential tax burden by an average of 7 percentage points in Black and Latino communities by fairly assessing large office buildings, luxury hotels, data centers, and warehouses.
In many areas, high-priced, politically connected property tax lawyers and lobbyists cause residential tax bills to go up through appeals to other governmental bodies. This results in benefits for large commercial property owners and refunds like the million dollar giveback to Trump Tower. Fritz has spoken out against this injustice. While he does not have jurisdiction over all the offices of the property tax system, Fritz will continue to fight for the policy changes taxpayers need and deserve.
THE CLAIM: Fritz has not done enough to reform the assessor’s office.
THE FACTS: Fritz and his team have done more to reform the Assessor’s Office in three years than any of his predecessors have done in the past ten years, including:
- A “Day One” ethics order which included a gift ban, a ban on nepotism, a prohibition on the use of office resources for private benefit, significant limitations on political contributions or activity from office employees, and required disclosure of economic property interests by staff to ensure there is separation between the work of the office and the person who owns the property.
- The online publication of assessment code and associated underlying data – a first for an assessor’s office of this size in the United States.
- Resolution of outstanding litigation that alleged discriminatory and regressive assessment practices and fair housing violations by previous administrations.
- Implementation of anonymized assessment appeals and increased oversight of assessment reductions as a demonstration of the office’s commitment to fairness.
- Implementation of auto-renewed senior homeowner exemptions after the Illinois General Assembly authorized auto-renewal and pandemic-related auto-renewal of exemptions for persons with disabilities and veterans.
DATA AND TECHNOLOGY
- Launched the first phase of a new integrated computer system which is shared by all the offices of the Cook County property tax system. This replaces the decades-old mainframe with a new, modern system which powers the tax system’s offices. This was a project first approved in 2015 but was not started until Fritz and his team made it a key priority because it will enable further data modernization.
- Relaunched its decade-old website featuring a more user-friendly interface and several explainers to demystify the Assessor’s Office and the Cook County property tax system.
- Created a new process of applying for both appeals and exemptions online which made both fully accessible via the website for the first time.
- Created internal and external reporting mechanisms to report assessment quality and diagnose assessment issues in Cook County – a first for the office.
- Introduced new data sources for use by analysts to ensure that assessments track local real estate activity affected by these factors.
- Developed code that tests the quality of our assessments using international standards.
- Created the Property Tax Rate Simulator Tool to show how levies, assessments, and property class affected Chicago property tax bills.
- Presented the annual Market Analyst Day, a new event in collaboration with the City of Chicago, which provides guidance on the office’s assessment methodology to maintain investor confidence in the city’s commercial real estate outlook.
ETHICS, FAIRNESS, AND TRANSPARENCY
- The Assessor’s Office now publicly posts the rules for appeals to ensure all taxpayers are treated fairly – a first for the office.
- The Assessor’s Office has won multiple awards from the National Association of Counties and the International Association of Assessing Officers and others for its efforts to make the office more transparent and accessible.
- Created brochures on appeals and exemptions in five non-English languages (Spanish, Polish, Chinese, Tagalog, and Arabic) for the first time.
- Met with key stakeholders in affordable housing at state and local levels to help create legislation (passed in Spring of 2021) that encourages maintenance and creation of affordable rental units in the county.
- Achieved substantial progress toward compliance with the Shakman decree, which ensures office operations are not driven by politics. Pursuant to their oversight, Shakman monitors found no evidence of politically motivated employment decisions by the Kaegi administration.
- Conducted outreach events for homeowners and commercial market participants at over 200 meetings throughout Cook County. Many of these events were conducted virtually during 2020 and 2021 to ensure people still had contact with the Assessor’s Office during the pandemic.
THE CLAIM: Fritz’s detractors claim he’s acted too quickly in implementing reforms to the property tax system, and should have moved more slowly to avoid shocks for taxpayers.
THE FACTS: By following the Illinois Tax Code, which requires everyone should be assessed fairly, Fritz has ensured no one pays more than their fair share. While some homeowners’ assessments have gone up, most of their tax bills have gone down or stayed flat. The reassessment cycle for Cook County is legally required to be conducted over three years, and Fritz’s reforms have necessarily taken place over the same period of time. For the majority of homeowners and small businesses, whose tax bills were higher than they should have been in the previous administration due to givebacks for corporate interests, these changes were urgently needed, and delaying would have made the situation worse for them.
THE CLAIM: Opponents claim the Assessor’s Office isn’t transparent about how it calculates assessments.
THE FACTS: For every area of Cook County that is reassessed, Fritz’s office releases dozens of pages of data on the sale prices and market values used to calculate assessments. Fritz’s team posts the underlying modeling and code online for anyone to see. The Assessor’s Office publishes grades on how fair and equitable their assessments are, as determined by international industry standards. It also released data dashboards showing the changes in assessed value for 2020 by the Assessor’s Office and the effects of appeals at the Board of Review. Fritz’s predecessors never did any of this.
Throughout the year, Fritz regularly attends events for community groups and business leaders to explain these reports and answer questions directly from homeowners and business owners. Under Fritz Kaegi, the Assessor’s Office has won multiple awards from the National Association of Counties and the International Association of Assessing Officers for its efforts to make the office more transparent and accessible.
THE CLAIM: People have to hire lawyers to appeal their property assessments. Even if their assessment is reduced, they have to pay too much in legal fees for fairness.
In 2020, Fritz and his team relaunched the online appeals and exemptions process, which made it easier to file an appeal, especially during the pandemic’s stay-at-home orders. In addition, the office carried out more than 200 virtual outreach events and released digital toolkits to ensure homeowners and small businesses were still able to file appeals. The Cook County Assessor’s Office received multiple awards in 2021 for its work on making appeals and exemptions more accessible during the pandemic.
THE CLAIM: Fritz’s opponents claim his reforms are disincentivizing corporate investment in Chicago and Cook County.
THE FACTS: Even with big commercial property owners paying more in taxes, post-pandemic investment in Chicago and Cook County has increased. That’s partly because Fritz’s team is working hard every day to make the property tax system more fair, ethical and transparent, and to unwind the inequities built into the system by previous leadership. Now, investors can buy into Cook County knowing that they’ll be able to operate on a level playing field that’s fair to everyone–and they don’t need to worry about hiring the right politically connected lawyers or getting on the right side of any one elected official anymore.
For years, the previous assessor under-estimated big commercial property owners like the Trump Tower in exchange for political favors or campaign contributions from clouted property tax attorneys. This corruption led to a profoundly broken system and left countless homeowners paying more than their fair share.
Even with these changes, corporate real estate dollars are flowing. In September 2021, Crain’s Chicago Business reported:
- a $1 billion dollar data center was planned for Elk Grove Village
- the “the biggest condos-to-apartments deal ever in Chicago” had approval
- a West Side apartment complex was predicted to sell for twice its previous sale price
Downtown Chicago continues to thrive. But Fritz believes the same attention must be paid to small businesses in all of Cook County’s neighborhoods and communities.
THE CLAIM: Fritz’s opponents say he has mishandled the senior freeze program, which was found to be riddled with errors.
THE FACTS: Under Fritz Kaegi, the Assessor’s Office administered an exemption auto-renewal program that made it easier for seniors, persons with disabilities, and veterans to receive the property tax exemptions they deserved under the law.
Since becoming Assessor, Fritz and his office have billed back more than $11 million to those who have claimed exemptions they did not deserve. This money benefits schools, libraries, parks, and libraries.
While a Chicago Sun-Times story revealed less than 0.1% of senior freeze recipients, or a total of 126 people out of 144,000, received exemptions they shouldn’t have, the impact on those who don’t receive the senior freeze was less than two cents per tax bill.
Fritz and his team have addressed this problem and no one who receives the senior freeze is paying less than their fair share. (A subsequent Sun-Times editorial supports this.) Meanwhile, the Assessor’s Office outreach team has increased its work to ensure all seniors are receiving the exemptions they deserve.
THE CLAIM: Fritz gave a tax break to the Trump Tower’s retail properties.
THE FACTS: Under Fritz Kaegi, the Trump Tower retail property is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars more each year in property taxes than it did under the Berrios administration. Fritz rejected the Trump Tower’s property tax appeal in 2019 because it did not follow the rules for appeals. In 2020, Fritz enacted a new policy which reduced the amount of money landlords could receive in property tax reductions because of vacant property. This policy change reduced property tax rates for Chicago residents and also forced the Trump Tower retail to pay its fair share in property taxes.
In 2018, under Berrios, Trump Tower retail paid about $496,000 in taxes. In 2019, under Fritz, Trump Tower retail paid about $1 million in taxes. In 2020, it paid about $698,000. The increase in Trump Tower’s tax bills is due to changes in policy which create a fairer assessment system for residents and small businesses in Cook County.
Friends for Fritz
P.O. BOX 64963
Chicago IL 60664
Friends for Fritz
P.O. BOX 64963
Chicago IL 60664