Kari K. Steele: 2022 candidate for Cook County assessor
Age on election day: 47
Occupation: President/Commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago
Previous offices held: Commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago
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 don't believe anyone would say the last four years at the Cook County Assessor's office have gone well. I never planned on running for Assessor, I even helped raise money for Assessor Kaegi when he first ran. But I was raised to take action when I see a problem that needs to be fixed, and after seeing the many problems that have arisen under Kaegi's leadership, I felt I needed to run. I'm running to use my experience as a competent manager to fix the problems that Kaegi's mismanagement has caused, including late property tax bills, botched senior exemptions and a misguided COVID relief program. As President of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, I have a decade of government management experience. I hired the first ever Inspector General, initiated audits of all lease agreements, and maintained a AAA bond rating while overseeing a billion-dollar budget. It's time for a qualified manager to lead the Assessor's office.
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: Kaegi fails to understand how his policies impact working families and small businesses. In addition to commercial property increases of a whopping 77%, assessments on single family homes will have risen by an average of nearly 26%. And apartment buildings, whose owners pass on tax increases to renters, will go up by an average of 73%. Commercial properties aren't just downtown skyscrapers, they're local businesses too. Local restaurants, barber shops and grocery stores are going to see their tax bills balloon beyond what they can afford. Kaegi's policies will gut communities that are in desperate need of more economic development, not less. Kaegi's extreme assessment increases are coming at a time when working homeowners, large employers and small businesses are especially struggling. We need an Assessor committed to bringing Cook County together and assessing properties predictably and reliably in a way that ensures our county is an affordable place to live and do business in.
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: These delays absolutely could have been avoided. Local governments as well as taxpayers will be negatively impacted because bills that were supposed to go out in August 2022 will likely not go out until January 2023. This will prevent taxpayers from deducting their tax payments on their federal tax returns next year and will hurt seniors and others on fixed incomes if they have to make three tax payments in one year instead of two. How are businesses and residents supposed to plan their own budgets when they don't know when they will have to pay their tax bills? The Assessor's "modernization" of the office has been described as a "disastrous implementation of new technology." It has caused significant problems with the transmission of data to other County offices, making it very difficult for them to function properly. Rolling out a modernization plan with testing and in phases would've helped prevent this, had the person in charge had the management experience to know that.