Clerk Orr Statement Regarding Release of CCA Study

Clerk David Orr
February 15, 2018
Statement from the Clerk
Real Estate and Tax

After nearly eight months since the Chicago Tribune’s “The Tax Divide” series exposed the critical flaws in the Cook County Assessor’s office assessment process we finally have the scathing results of the latest independent study.

Keep in mind three substantive studies had already been conducted: a 2011 study by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy; a University of Chicago analysis commissioned by the Assessor in 2014 and funded by the MacArthur Foundation; and the Chicago Tribune investigation, but Assessor Berrios and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle felt yet another study was needed, this time by the Civic Consulting Alliance (CCA).
Nevertheless, this latest study by the CCA once again reveals what we’ve known all along:

  • Under the Illinois Constitution, property assessments are required to be uniform. The study tells us that: “if properties are not assessed uniformly, some property owners pay more than their fair share of property taxes and some pay correspondingly less.” Today’s study indicates that the Cook County residential assessments vary widely and fail to meet industry uniformity standards.
  • Assessor Berrios has long touted that the appeals process makes the system fair. Today’s CCA report directly contradicts this claim. In fact, according to the report, appeals lead to an increase in the regressivity. “There is a strong correlation between the value of the home and the propensity to appeal. Owners of higher-value homes appeal at much higher rates than owners of lower-value homes, and because the share of appeals leading to reductions does not correlate with the value of the homes, this pattern leads to an increase in regressivity of the current system.”

    In fact, for example, nearly 40 percent of properties worth more than $500,000 receive a reduction at the Assessor’s appeals phase, compared to only 6.68 percent worth less than $200,000, according to the study.
  • This study notes that the assessment process should be transparent. What we know is that it is not. People still do not know how their properties are being assessed but what they do know is that the process is unfair.

As Cook County Clerk my office needs fair and accurate assessments to calculate Cook County property taxes, which we unfortunately haven’t been getting. The lack of transparency in the assessment process astonishes me and all Cook County residents should be astonished, too.   
Berrios’ office acknowledged the problems several years ago, and in 2015, publically touted a model he claimed would fix the regressivity issues. The lack of transparency from Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios, who has been in office and overseen this issue for 8 years, only erodes the public’s trust in government. It was not until the Tribune’s 2017 series, that we became aware that these problems still existed.
As the Tribune reminds us, “in 2009 Berrios’ predecessor, James Houlihan, turned to the MacArthur Foundation for help in developing a new model to improve accuracy and reduce regressivity. That work stalled after Berrios took office late the following year.”
It’s important to note that while this study confirms what we’ve learned through the Tribune’s reporting last year, it’s important to remember this: only the problems associated with residential properties are addressed in this study. As the Tribune and Pro-Publica revealed, sweeping reforms are also needed for commercial and industrial property tax assessments.

David Orr
Cook County Clerk