Are commercial properties fairly assessed? Cook County Board of Review candidates differ on issue

Candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for the Cook County Board of Review District 1 seat differ on how commercial properties are or should be valued and what it means for homeowners.

Abdelnasser Rashid of Justice and Tammy Wendt of Palos Heights are running in the March 17 primary to represent the Democratic Party in November's general election. The winner will face Republican incumbent Dan Patlak.

Rashid is the former deputy assessor/chief policy officer at the Cook County Assessor's Office. Wendt is a lawyer with lengthy experience in the real estate field.

The three-member Cook Board of Review is a quasi-judicial agency that hears appeals from residents and businesses who think their assessments are too high. District 1 stretches from the northwest corner of Cook County to the southwest suburbs.

Rashid said the property tax system punishes homeowners because, in general, commercial properties have been under assessed, shifting the tax burden onto residential properties.

He said the assessor's office needs to be modernized by using the best data sources available to provide accurate assessments, and that information should be more transparent to taxpayers.

"What are the market assumptions we're using to value properties?" he asked. "We should know that."

But Wendt said assessments of commercial properties have unfairly increased under Assessor Fritz Kaegi, who was elected to the post in 2018.

"He's not taking into consideration rent, are they rented out, what's the income - he's just looking at fair market value," she said.

The resulting reduction in residential tax bills is a short-term fix, Wendt contends. Rising commercial assessments have resulted in an exodus of businesses, which means those left behind pay more, she said.

"Who gets stuck with the (tax) bill? Homeowners," she said.

She said more staff, particularly lawyers, are needed to fix a backlog of appeals.

Rashid said a study showed assessments under former Assessor Joe Berrios were off 50% on commercial properties, and adjustments by Kaegi have not overshot the commercial market.

"Do I think we're moving in the right direction? Absolutely. There's also more work that needs to be done. We need to get better data and the mistakes that are being made need to be corrected," he said.

Rashid said "a culture of appeals" has led to the backlog.

"The way that you break it is you decide appeals fairly based on fair market value," he said. Establishing that as a practice will reduce overhead, increase accuracy and help built public trust in the system, he added.

Wendt said she wants to stop the "pendulum from swinging in the direction of overtaxing commercial properties."

Patlak, former Wheeling Township assessor, has been on the Board of Review since 2010.

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