Democrat Frederick “Fritz” Kaegi is the Sun-Times’ endorsed candidate in the Cook County assessor’s race. He faces Republican Joseph Paglia in the November election.
The Chicago Sun-Times asked both candidates for Cook County Assessor to list five ways they would improve the county’s tax assessment process. Kaegi submitted the following answers:
Major studies and newspaper investigations in recent years have concluded that the property tax assessment system in Cook County favors the wealthy and politically connected over the average homeowner and the working poor.
The assessor’s office has undertaxed more valuable homes in more exclusive city neighborhoods and suburbs, effectively shifting the tax burden to everybody else’s properties.
Rather than ask you to complete a conventional candidate questionnaire, with a long list of questions, we would ask that you simply tell us, in the spaces below, five or more ways you would improve the county’s tax assessment process for residential and commercial properties.
1. Fairness and accuracy through better data:
This is an office that is fundamentally about equity. The job of the Assessor’s Office is to determine how the $14 billion annual property tax bill is divided, based on the fair market value of every property in Cook County. Yet under the status quo, the Assessor’s office is organized to deliver favors to a small handful of winners, rather than a public service for the taxpayers.
I believe we can change it, deliver a major economic benefit to county residents, and repair trust in the fairness of the whole property tax system. All of this begins with better data.
Real estate assessment is an exercise in taking lots of data about property characteristics and transactions, and then crunching that data to estimate, as accurately as possible, the market values of these properties. Today, we benefit from incredible access to data: Geographic information systems, 3D modeling, mortgage data, other third party sources. Data that used to be trapped at other government bodies like the Board of Review and the Recorder of Deeds, or in paper documents like building permits, can be captured and stored at ever lower costs.
The technology, the data, and the best practices are all out there, and my team and I are completely focused on bringing all of these things to Cook County. Investing in better data will be the first, crucial step in improving accuracy and fairness in the entire system.
Overhauling the technology within this office is not just about modeling and data. It’s also about transparency, which is necessary to make a clean break from the past. Taxpayers deserve to know how their assessments are calculated. I am committed to making data and algorithms (including assessment variables) available to the public. By putting it all out there publicly on an API and on the county’s open data portal, outside parties can check our work. We can root out the biases and unsound valuation practices and favoritism that we know have existed—and restore confidence in the office.
Who is Fritz Kaegi?
He’s running for: Cook County Assessor His political/civic background: -First United Methodist Church of Oak Park, Member, since 2010 -Social Venture Partners Chicago, Investment Committee member, 2015-2017 -Social Venture Partners Chicago, Partner, since 2014 -Oak Park Youth Baseball and Softball, assistant coach, since 2014 -CFA Society of Chicago, member and charterholder, since 2013 -Leadership Greater Chicago, Finance Committee, 2015-2017, and Program Committee, 2013-2015 -Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow, 2012-2013 -First United Methodist Church of Evanston, member, 2009-2010 -Broadway United Methodist Church, member, 2006-2009 -Local admissions interviewer, Haverford College, 2003-current -Local admissions interviewer, Stanford Graduate School of Business, 2003-current -Chicago Council on Global Affairs, member, 2003-current -Chicago Sister Cities, Moscow Committee, 2002-2014 His occupation: Full-time candidate for the office of Cook County Assessor His education: BA from Haverford College, MBA from Stanford University Campaign website: fritzforassessor.com Twitter: @fritz4assessor Recent news: Fritz Kaegi
3. Ethics reform:
I am committed to implementing a slate of new ethics rules on day one in office. This is essential, not only to mark a clear break from past practices, but also to build trust in the new system.
As a candidate, I have already pledged not to accept donations from the property tax appeals industry, and as Assessor I will continue to do the very same. I am committed to eliminating this culture of pay-to-play.
We are looking at a variety of other ways to break the perception that certain parties have an inside track to more favorable outcomes. Among these are:
-Creating a public visitor log;
-Disclosure of employee contacts with parties engaged in appeals;
-Anonymizing from analysts the identity of the law firms handling appeals;
-Rotating analyst assignments of certain classes of properties;
-Enhanced codes of conduct and limits on gifts and entertaining;
-Enhanced disclosure of conflicts of interest and outside sources of income.
4. Outreach and accountability:
We need to equip this office to serve all of Cook County, with all its racial, cultural, and linguistic diversity. That means implementing a robust diversity hiring plan, fostering a culture of inclusion, respect, and accessibility for the people that work inside the office, and overhauling the way this office does community outreach, which is currently primarily focused on appeals.
We intend to educate residents across the county on the services, exemptions, and benefits that are available to them—and keep them updated on the progress we are making—through public forums, seminars, and in quarterly and annual reports.
5. Automatic renewal of the seniors’ exemption:
One major opportunity we see for streamlining processes within the office, and lifting an administrative burden for thousands of taxpayers, is automatic renewal of the the seniors’ exemption. Currently, the property tax code requires seniors to annually certify that they are one year older, and to reapply for the seniors’ exemption. In Cook County, about a hundred thousand seniors miss out on reapplying each year, and it is a burdensome requirement on the thousands that do apply.
Automatic enrollment would require a legislative change within the General Assembly, which we strongly support. Given that the state already tracks deaths and changes of ownership, this annual ritual wastes employee time and taxpayer money on processing forms and requests, when these scarce resources could be deployed for other office operations where improvement is badly needed.
Ahead of the historic 2018 elections, the Sun-Times is teaming up weekly with the Better Government Association, in print and online, to fact-check the truthfulness of the candidates. You can find all of the PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported together here.
• Recent news: Fritz Kaegi