Under Fritz Kaegi, Cook County’s property tax system is undeniably more fair

Kaegi took steps on behalf of struggling homeowners and small businesses who had previously suffered under well-documented unfairness, inequities, inaccuracy and unethical behavior during the Joe Berrios administration.

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Cook County assessor Fritz Kaegi.

Cook County assessor Fritz Kaegi.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

In keeping with its watchdog mission, the Chicago Sun-Times has both praised and criticized the actions of Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi in a series of stories over the past several months.

But the headlines and framing of the most recent Sun-Times articles miss the bigger picture in favor of sensationalism and cherry-picked facts.

The Sun-Times should have included and highlighted: That Kaegi acted to ensure disabled veterans did not have their property tax reductions taken away during the height of a pandemic; accurately assessed the Trump Tower, which led to the property paying hundreds of thousands of dollars more in taxes than under the Joe Berrios administration; and took extraordinary steps to ensure assessments were as accurate as possible as real estate values plummeted during the pandemic.

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Kaegi took those steps on behalf of struggling homeowners and small businesses who had previously suffered under well-documented unfairness, inequities, inaccuracy and unethical behavior during the prior Berrios administration of 2010-2018. Kaegi’s actions, among others, led half of Chicagoans to be able to pay less in property taxes last year, reversing an almost decade-long trend of higher bills beginning under his predecessor. It also meant homeowners in the suburbs saw, on average, only a 1% increase in property taxes because Kaegi ensured that large commercial property owners, who benefited from the previous rigged system, were finally forced to pay their fair share.

As supporters of Kaegi, we see the good work he’s done to make the assessment system more transparent and fair. Should he have done what other politicians might have done in his shoes: ignore the effects of the pandemic and expect homeowners to hire expensive, clouted property tax attorneys as their advocates? Wouldn’t this have continued the very practices the Sun-Times and other papers insisted should be left in the past?

Like any elected official, Kaegi’s decisions are deserving of scrutiny. But largely missing from the recent reporting are the benefits he’s created under a fairer system.

The powerful and moneyed special interests who enjoyed the old system are hoping to take the assessor’s office back to what they saw as the good old days. They want to reverse Kaegi’s actions so homeowners carry more of the property tax burden, while the very wealthy and big corporations carry less.

The Sun-Times stories, we think, play into a narrative that helps only the lobbyists and the large commercial property owners downtown who want the system to go back to the old corrupt ways.

That’s a story the Sun-Times has yet to publish.

Jacky Grimshaw, vice president for governmental affairs at Center for Neighborhood Technology
David Orr, former Cook County clerk

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