Correcting the Record:
Addressing common misconceptions and incorrect claims about property tax assessments
There’s a lot of misinformation out there about Fritz’s work to reform the broken Cook County property tax system. Some of these misconceptions are simple misunderstandings of the facts, and that makes sense–the property tax system is complicated and tough for anyone to understand sometimes. Unfortunately, some of the incorrect claims have been advanced by Fritz’s political opponents in an attempt to mislead voters ahead of the 2022 election. That’s why we took some time here to break down some common misconceptions and share some important facts.
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Has Fritz done enough to reduce property taxes?
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.
Almost half of Cook County homeowners saw their tax bills fall this year.
For homeowners whose tax bills increased, the average was just 1 percent in every area that was reassessed since Fritz’s administration began, 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, which the previous assessor grossly under-assessed. Crain’s reporting shows Fritz is valuing Willis Tower–and properties like it–correctly.
Property taxes are still too high, mainly because local taxing districts continue to increase levies. Each year he has been in office, Fritz has called for more state and federal funding to bring down local tax rates.
How are Fritz’s reforms impacting Black and Latino communities?
Fritz is reforming 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. By making sure big corporations and the very wealthy are paying their fair share Fritz is reducing the property tax burden on homeowners in Black and Latino areas.
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 initial assessments, Fritz reduced the share of the residential tax burden in Black and Latino communities by fairly assessing large office buildings, luxury hotels, data centers, and warehouses, so homeowners no longer have to make up the difference.
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.
What has Fritz done to reform the assessor’s office?
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, including a gift ban, a ban on nepotism, a prohibition on the use of office resources for private benefit, limitations on political contributions or activity from office employees, and required disclosure of economic property interests by staff to ensure 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.
- Anonymized appeals and increased oversight of assessment reductions.
- Implementation of auto-renewed senior homeowner exemptions and pandemic-related auto-renewal of exemptions for persons with disabilities and veterans.
DATA AND TECHNOLOGY
- Launched 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. This project was approved in 2015, but was not started until Fritz made it a priority.
- Launched a new website featuring a more user-friendly interface and information to demystify the Assessor’s Office and the Cook County property tax system.
- Created a new, online application process for appeals and online.
- Introduced new data sources to ensure that assessments track local real estate activity.
- 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 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 Spanish, Polish, Chinese, Tagalog, and Arabic.
- Helped create legislation (passed in Spring 2021) that encourages maintenance and creation of affordable housing.
- Conducted virtual and in-person outreach for homeowners and commercial market participants at more than 200 meetings throughout Cook County.
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. Should Fritz have slowed down?
No. 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. Fritz has followed the law and ensured no one pays more than their fair share. Most homeowners’ tax bills have gone down or stayed flat. The reassessment cycle for Cook County is legally required to be conducted over three years.
Has the Assessor’s Office been transparent about how it calculates assessments?
Yes. 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 industry standards. Fritz also released data dashboards showing the changes in assessed value for 2020 and the effects of appeals at the Board of Review. Fritz also released detailed spreadsheets that show how every commercial property in Chicago was reassessed; suburban versions will be released when they are reassessed. Fritz’s predecessors never did any of this.
Throughout the year, Fritz attends about 200 events for community groups and business leaders to explain these reports and answer questions directly from homeowners and business owners. Under Fritz, 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, even during the pandemic.
Do people have to hire lawyers to appeal their property assessments? Even if their assessment is reduced, is it true that they have to pay too much in legal fees for fairness?
Fritz and his team relaunched the online appeals and exemptions process, making it easier to file an appeal. 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 under Fritz received multiple awards for its work on making appeals and exemptions more accessible during the pandemic.
How are Fritz’s reforms impacting corporate investment in Chicago and Cook County?
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 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-assessed 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.
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.
What’s going on with the senior freeze program, which was found to contain errors?
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.
Because Fritz and his office have improved the tracking of unearned exemptions, he has refunded more than $15 million Cook County communities; his money benefits schools, libraries, parks, and first responders.
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 has addressed this problem–no one who receives the senior freeze is paying less than their fair share. (A subsequent Sun-Times editorial supports this.)
The Assessor’s Office outreach team has increased its work to ensure all seniors are receiving the exemptions they deserve.
Did Fritz give a tax break to the Trump Tower’s retail properties?
No. This is a misleading allegation perpetuated by Fritz’s political opponents. Under Fritz, 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 that 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 that create a fairer assessment system for residents and small businesses in Cook County.
In 2021, Fritz increased the assessment on Trump Tower’s retail properties by 68%. This assessment increase will likely lead to a significant tax increase on the property in 2022.
Friends for Fritz
P.O. BOX 64963
Chicago IL 60664
Friends for Fritz
P.O. BOX 64963
Chicago IL 60664