Berrios defends delays in reviewing unfair property tax system

Berrios defends delays in reviewing unfair property tax system

Nearly three months removed from the initial call for review of the property tax system, Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios refuses to provide a timeline for completion and release.

Months after Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle called for a review of Cook County’s property tax system, taxpayers are still waiting for the report that could help remedy unfairness in the system Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios is meant to oversee.

This wait continues despite the release of a report issued by the Chicago Tribune in June detailing the fundamentally flawed system, wherein high value properties were systematically undervalued – thus paying less in property taxes – and lower-value properties were systematically overvalued – thus paying more.

Berrios appeared before Cook County board commissioners Oct. 27 and talked about how “unfair” it would be to press the third-party organization performing the study, according to the Tribune. However, he failed to mention fairness towards taxpayers, the group most affected by this flawed system. One person who continues to benefit from this system is the elected official tasked with running it.

During his time on the Cook County Board of Review, which reviews property tax appeals, now-Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios raised nearly $1 million in campaign donations from 15 law firms that handle property tax appeals. And Illinois State Board of Elections records show that since 2012, Berrios’ campaign funds have taken more than $1.9 million in donations from law firms that handle property tax appeals, according to CBS 2 Chicago. Critics have said this state of affairs is a conflict of interest. Berrios is also the chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party.

Earlier this year, a former employee in the Cook County assessor’s office pleaded guilty to receiving kickbacks in exchange for getting fraudulent property tax refunds. Berrios has denied any wrongdoing in relation to the investigation. But questions have long abounded about valuations from Berrios’ office and his relationship with some of Illinois’ most prominent politicians.

With such blatant conflicts of interest, there’s little wonder the Cook County Assessor’s Office has earned a reputation for dubious ethical practices.

Property taxes in Cook County and Illinois continue to squeeze the middle class by raising rates to some of the highest in the state and country. The high tax rates are especially damaging considering that taxes are outpacing residents’ ability to pay, thus creating an even heavier financial burden for taxpayers.

This high tax burden is magnified by an unequal burden on residents across different areas of the county. And politicians are dragging their feet to fix the problem.

Taxpayers deserve better.

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