'It just doesn't make any sense': Commercial owners hit hardest in latest Cook property tax bills

Nearly 80% of all commercial property owners in Cook County received higher property tax bills this year, while 50% of homeowners saw their taxes increase.

A representative of building owners said the gap isn't fair. But a spokesman said the Cook County assessor's office is correcting for widespread underassessment of commercial property in the past.

"It just doesn't make any sense," said Farzin Parang, executive director of the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago. "This shows to us how the assessor is putting his thumb on the scale and not on market data."

According to a new report released Tuesday by the property tax research unit of Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas' office, property owners in Cook are paying $534 million more in property taxes this year combined over last year, a 3.4% increase.

The report also shows that 50.5% of residential properties in the county received higher tax bills, while 78.5% of the county's commercial property owners were charged more this year.

Of the additional property tax revenue generated, $410 million is coming from commercial owners, while $114 million is due to increases on residential property owners. The remaining $10 million is coming from other types of properties.

Scott Smith, a spokesman for Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi, said some of the increased burden is because bodies received more tax dollars through either inflation or voter-approved hikes, but he acknowledged the assessor's office is also re-evaluating many commercial properties' worth.

"In the past, a lot of areas were underassessed, particularly commercial properties," Smith said. "We are assessing property more accurately than in the past and getting closer to the market value, which largely hasn't happened in the past."

Pappas said the data is alarming because the total increase in property taxes, which largely goes to fund school districts in Chicago and the suburbs, is outpacing the rate of inflation. Her office is in charge of mailing property tax bills and processing payments.

"I hear the complaints from everybody," she said. "But it's certainly a hard time raising taxes on commercial property owners with everything that's going on."

Parang said because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many commercial tenants have already decreased their leased office space or plan to do so. Additionally, many tenants have told building owners they expect to maintain lower occupancy even after the pandemic is over.

Kaegi's office issued across-the board-reductions on property assessments after the onset of the pandemic, but an expected drop in residential real estate never materialized.

"It was 180 degrees wrong and has been breaking highs all year long," Parang argued.

Kaegi's office reassessed properties in the South and Western suburbs ahead of this year's tax bills. Chicago properties are being reassessed this year. Next year, properties in the North and Northwest suburbs will be reassessed.

Smith said "COVID-inflated" home sales will have an affect on all residential property values when reassessments happen.

"We've certainly seen increases in assessments in Chicago, and honestly in a very surprising way in increased home values," he said.

The median tax bills for commercial properties in almost every Northwest suburb went up this year, according to the report from Pappas' office. Only Prospect Heights and Streamwood saw the median commercial tax bill drop this year.

That's not the case for suburban homeowners.

Homeowners in Wheeling and Elk Grove Village fared the best this year. Just 5.6% of homeowners in Wheeling received higher property tax bills, and the median bill dropped by $100 there, according to figures from Pappas' report. In Elk Grove Village, just 14% of homeowners saw higher property tax bills, and the median bill was nearly $60 lower than the previous year.

The median residential property tax bills in Arlington Heights, Bartlett, Buffalo Grove, Elgin, Hanover Park, Mount Prospect, Palatine, Rolling Meadows, Roselle and Streamwood all decreased this year, according to Pappas' report.

The figures in Pappas' report only cover properties in the Cook County portion of those towns. Many suburbs cross county lines.

In Barrington Hills, the median residential property tax bill for Cook County homeowners is nearly $537 lower than last year, but almost 77% of the homeowners there are paying more in property taxes than they did last year.

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