Fritz Kaegi: 2022 candidate for Cook County Assessor
City: Oak Park
Age: Did not specify
Previous offices held: I was elected Cook County Assessor in 2018
Q: Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election for the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you? If so, what?
A: I have been Cook County Assessor since 2018. I am dedicated to fixing our broken property tax system. As a progressive Democrat, my primary goal is to make the Cook County property tax system fair, transparent and equitable for everyone. Under my leadership, Cook County residential property tax bills rose just 1% per year over the last two years, breaking a multi-decade trend where they rose much faster. In 2021, the Assessor's Office received an award for our outstanding public information and outreach during the pandemic. This was the first time this office has received this type of award.
For the first time in a long time, large commercial properties are paying their fair share which lessens the burden on middle class families and small businesses. I plan to continue moving forward in fixing our property tax system.
Q: Property tax bills for commercial properties have soared in recent years, in part because of measures enacted by the assessor's office. Are these measures fair? Explain why or why not?
A: As assessor, I have worked tirelessly to make assessments fair, transparent and accurate for everyone. That meant doing the work to fix a broken and unfair property tax system that favored the very wealthy, big corporations, and politically connected. Under previous Assessor Joe Berrios, many residential property owners carried more of the burden of taxes due to significant underassessment of large commercial properties.
By making sure the very wealthy and big corporations are now paying their fair share, we've been able to ease the property tax burden on regular homeowners who no longer have to foot the bill when the politically connected get unfair tax breaks.
In fact, the average tax increase for homeowners in Cook County who have had their properties reassessed in recent years was just 1%.
With the bold, corrective actions taken by my administration, future assessments will be more predictable and gradual, based on annual increases in real estate market prices.
Q: Property tax payments to local governments are facing delays, purportedly due to problems with a switch to a new "integrated" property tax system. Could these delays have been avoided? How?
A: Our office implemented urgent technological upgrades to the assessment system, which has temporarily delayed bills but will have long-term benefits. Neither the Berrios administration nor the County Board of Review (BOR) took meaningful steps to implement a $40 million project (approved by the county board in 2015) to transition off a 40-year-old mainframe long past its date of expiration. The only people capable of operating the mainframe are retired and paid through costly consulting contracts. In 2020, we launched a new online exemptions and appeals system -- the first step to move us from a paper-based process to a digital one; the full system launched in 2021. Delays are due partly to the BOR's continued use of the mainframe, a risk to the whole system. Their process requires us to enter data into the new system then export it into the old mainframe that powers the board's appeals. We are hopeful the BOR will get up to speed as quickly as possible, for the sake of taxpayers.