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updated: 10/23/2010 10:02 PM

Q&A: Cook County assessor -- Joseph Berrios

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  • Joseph Berrios

    Joseph Berrios

Daily Herald Report

Candidate: Joseph Berrios, Democrat, of Chicago

Occupation: Commissioner, Cook County Board of Review

Elected Offices Held: In 1982, I ran for State Representative and won. I and went on to serve three more terms. Then, in 1988, I ran for a spot on the Board of Review, which oversees property tax appeals. I have served on the Board of Review ever since.

What is your No. 1 campaign issue? My top priority will be -- and should be -- to fairly assess properties at market value. If you're a property owner, this means understanding the assessment notice mailed to you by the Cook County Assessor's office, and how your assessment was actually reached.

Homeowners are being unfairly hit with tremendous fair market value increases by the current Assessor during the most serious economic decline in decades. If you're a property owner, transparency is key to how your assessment is determined. One of the first initiatives I will undertake will be to reconvene a blue-ribbon panel to study the 10/25 reclassification ordinance.

(The 10/25 reclassification) has resulted in an unfair and confusing methodology that has caused undue hardship on residential property owners. I will ensure that the ordinance is studied thoroughly by a blue-ribbon panel and determine necessary changes. This study will include a "consequences section" so that the Cook County Board of Commissioners understands the potential effect of the ordinance.

If you're a property owner, transparency is critical to understanding your assessment notice. You deserve a better understanding of your property's value, which is why my office will undertake is redesigning the assessment notice.

The current assessment notice includes just the prior assessed value and current assessed value. I will redesign the notice to include assessment and appeal history for the past five years. It will also include sample comparables on each property owner's block, including Recorder of Deeds transactions.

What is your No. 2 campaign issue? I will expand the Assessor's Office Outreach Department, including the creation of a Senior Outreach unit.

This means that I will ensure that customers are treated with the respect they deserve. I will make sure that phones are answered promptly, messages are returned, and that the office is open on several Saturdays each year during tax calendar "crunch time." This will allow working families to have time to visit the office without having to take time off from their jobs. I will also re-open suburban offices so homeowners don't have to travel to Chicago.

For seniors, I understand that they need to be protected in today's economic climate. That's why I'm working now with legislative leaders from Springfield to eliminate the annual senior tax exemption renewal requirement. Seniors should automatically have their exemption renewed each year. I don't want seniors who are rightfully entitled to forget, and miss out on this very important exemption.

I also plan to implement several other senior citizen initiatives when I become Cook County Assessor, including the creation of a Senior Outreach Department and implementation of a medical care deduction.

Given the high cost of medical care seniors are faced with, I will work with legislative leaders to create policy that would allow for the deduction of non-reimbursed medical and prescription drug expenses when determining income eligibility for a Senior Tax Exemption and/or Senior Tax Freeze. This is currently done in Nassau County, as well as in the state of Washington.

Deductions would be calculated from non-reimbursed medical and prescription drug expenses, non-reimbursed home care, and non-reimbursed amounts paid for nursing or adult family homes. These would require receipts and insurance proof that they were not reimbursed or claimed on 1040 income tax forms.

What is your No. 3 campaign issue? I want taxpayers to better understand the 10-25 Ordinance, but first I believe the 10/25 reclassification needs to be thoroughly studied. ... It has resulted in an unfair and confusing methodology that has caused undue hardship on homeowners. I will ensure that the ordinance is studied thoroughly by a blue-ribbon panel to assess viability and determine necessary changes. This study will include a "consequences section so that the Cook County Board of Commissioners understands the potential effect of the ordinance and any revisions.

Cook's County's property tax classification law had been amended 31 times since 1974, with each major change preceded by a commission to review the proposed changes and issue a public report. Accordingly, this was done in 2008 to review Houlihan's 10/25 proposal and to determine whether the new "10/25 assessment levels would shift the tax burden from one property tax class to another or cause other disruptions.

Northwestern Professor Don Haider chaired the task force. In an April 29, 2010 letter to the Chicago Tribune ("Why you might sit down for this bill"), Haider stated that the task force met eight times and heard testimony from experts and weighed the data presented to us. "We were satisfied that the proposed change in residential valuations to 10 percent of fair market value from 16 percent would work. But we received no data from the assessor or others to validate the proposed new 25 percent levels for commercial and industrial properties, Haider wrote.

Data provided to the panel by the Illinois Department of Revenue showed the median assessments on these property classes already fell well below the proposed 25 percent level. Haider said this raised a red flag and the task force wondered whether adoption of the 10/25 amendment would shift more of the tax burden to the residential property class.

The task force never had a chance to complete its study because it never received the information from the Assessor's office, Haider said. The 10/25 ordinance was passed, unvetted by the panel, in September 2008.

Under my direction, this task force would reconvene, or another formed, to complete the job it started. The public deserves to know if this re-classification would burden them during one of the most difficult economic times in our nation's history. I will make sure this happens.