Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios is defending his office's work against claims from his two Democratic primary challengers that inaccurate assessments are leading to excessive appeals, wasting resources that should be used elsewhere.
Asset manager Fritz Kaegi and, for now, property tax analyst Andrea Raila are taking on Berrios in the March 20 primary. The Cook County Electoral Board is scheduled to issue a decision Thursday on whether Raila should be off the ballot due to a lack of valid nominating petition signatures, in a case brought by Kaegi supporters.
Berrios, who joined Kaegi in a Daily Herald editorial board interview Tuesday, said his office handles assessments for about 1.8 million properties every three years. About 25 percent of the assessments are appealed, a figure Kaegi says is more than double that in large markets across the country.
The appeals are a reflection of property owners exercising their legal rights, Berrios said, adding that his office often helps property owners contest valuations.
"State of Illinois law says that every taxpayer has a right to appeal," said Berrios, a Chicago resident who's been the county assessor since 2010. "Not only at the assessor's office, but at the Board of Review ... or in court."
Kaegi, of Oak Park, said better assessments would mean fewer appeals, saving money for the office and property owners. He called it "grotesque" that about 25 percent of valuations under Berrios' administration typically have drawn appeals.
"What we don't realize is that although we have grown up around here in this (assessment appeal) culture, other people around the United States think this is nuts," Kaegi said.
In a telephone interview, Raila also questioned why there are so many property assessment appeals and said she would work to reduce the need. It's the office's responsibility "to get it right the first time," the Chicago resident said.
"I absolutely think that the office of the assessor is too top heavy with handling appeals," Raila added. "There are errors like square footage errors that need to be addressed at the assessor's level."
Meanwhile, Berrios and Raila on Tuesday denied accusations from Kaegi's camp that their campaigns are coordinating. The theory is Raila and Kaegi would divide any anti-Berrios votes, allowing the incumbent to win the party's nomination.
Kaegi said Raila should not be on the ballot if, as a hearing officer ruled, her nominating petitions revealed a pattern of fraud.
"We think this office has really been troubled by ethical problems for a long time and we deserve an ethical assessor," Kaegi said.
Berrios said his campaign also wanted to knock Raila off the ballot, but dropped its challenge when it couldn't find enough problems with her petitions.
Raila dismissed claims by Kaegi that Berrios' "patronage army" helped her get 23,585 nominating signatures. She said she'll appeal in Cook County circuit court if the electoral board rules against her.