Faced with allegations that his office helps the rich and hurts the poor, Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios insisted Monday that his approach to figuring out property values is sound, and that he’s working to educate lower-income homeowners about how they can reduce their property-tax payments.
Homeowners in minority communities, Berrios said, often aren’t aware that they have the option to appeal their property values — and can do so without hiring lawyers. But he disputed the methodology of a Chicago Tribune analysis that found that the county’s assessment system has been “riddled with errors that punished the poor while providing breaks to the wealthy.”
His answer to the system? Appeal: “Each appeal gives a voice to taxpayers. It is not rigged or beneficial to those who use attorneys,” Berrios said outside his Loop office.
The series noted that higher-market homes appeal their assessed values more often than those at the lower end of the market. The assessor’s office argued it doesn’t have control over who decides to appeal, and noted that historically there have been fewer appeals coming from minority communities.
But while touting his administration’s outreach efforts to those communities, however, Berrios said he planned on expanding the program. He said his office has conducted 328 community outreach events over the past two years, with 252 of them in areas with lower-market value homes.
“Am I sentimental to the minority community? Please. I’m Puerto Rican. I grew up in Cabrini Green. Where did I come from?” Berrios said. “I’m trying to get the information out to everyone.”
Berrios was asked whether there is institutional racism within Cook County’s property tax system: “There is no racism in this administration and number one, I wouldn’t permit it.”
He also defended the county’s mass appraisal system, while also conceding there’s room for improvement. The Tribune series cited different models to assess properties, which the assessor’s office quickly dismissed as being flawed.
“We don’t look at each and every property in Cook County, so I encourage it [appeals],” Berrios said. “I look at uniformity, but I still don’t know if there’s a problem with your particular property.”
Berrios was asked repeatedly about the ethics of taking in contributions from property tax attorneys and businesses.
“I am fair to every taxpayer, everyone who files a complaint up here,” Berrios said. “And whether you are an attorney and you don’t contribute to my campaign, guess what? You will get the same treatment as everyone else.”
As Berrios left the press conference, he was asked why the Cook County system is so reliant upon appeals.
“Because 1.85 million pieces of property. If you can be 100 percent right, God bless you,” Berrios said.