New Cook County Assessor Promises Sweeping Reforms

<div class="body"><p>Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios, one of the last leaders of the old Democratic machine, has lost the Democratic primary to a wealthy political newcomer. Berrios has been the Cook County Assessor since 2010 and in the time since he was elected public opinion of the property tax system has continued to decrease.</p><p>Many voters are sick of insiders profiting off the system. A series of investigations by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois exposed the unfair property tax assessment system under Berrios. Homeowners in lower-income neighborhoods were found to be paying significantly more in property taxes than their counterparts in wealthier areas. Commercial and industrial assessments were even more inaccurate than those for residential properties, with small business owners paying for overvalued properties while downtown skyscrapers were consistently undervalued.</p><p>The removal of Berrios from office paves the way for reform at a government agency that has operated for decades with little oversight or transparency, even though it has significant influence over the finances of millions of people.</p><p>The removal of Berrios from office paves the way for reform at a government agency that has operated for decades with little oversight or transparency, even though it has significant influence over the finances of millions of people.</p><p>The next Cook County Assessor will be Fritz Kaegi who won the Assessor’s race with 45% of the vote. Kaegi comes from a background of having run a multi-billion dollar mutual fund. Kaegi worked as a financial analyst for a Moscow division of UBS and later for Columbia Wagner Asset Management. As a financial analyst, Kaegi's job was to set values - the same skill necessary to assess property values. To learn more about the nuances of the job, he recently went through a five-week certification class from the Illinois Property Assessment Institute.</p><p>Kaegi summarized his campaign with the slogan "No favoritism, just fairness." He promises to develop a new and improved system to set property values, to publicly disclose details about how he'll reach his decisions, and to hire only qualified professionals with the right credentials. But this isn’t the first time the assessor’s office has pledged to improve its residential valuations. In July 2015, the office said it had adopted a new model funded by the MacArthur Foundation. The new model, the office said, was supposed to increase accuracy by 50 percent and fairness by 25 percent. But reporting showed Berrios never actually implemented the new model.</p><p>Experts are in line with Kaegi’s thinking saying the assessment system needs an overhaul and the office should make public the methods and underlying data used to value properties to ensure they are in line with best practices.</p><p>It remains to be seen if Kaegi will follow through on his vows to clean up and restore confidence in the assessment system. As of now, voters should be hopeful since the Cook County property tax system can’t possibly get any worse.</p><p>Fritz Kaegi, Cook County Assessor</p><p>Name: Fritz Kaegi</p><p>Political Affiliation: Democrat</p><p>Education: Kenwood High School, Haverford College (greater Philadelphia area), MBA Stanford University</p><p>Personal Life: Born and raised in the Hyde Park Neighborhood, lives in Oak Park with his wife Rebecca and their three children. Speaks fluent Russian. Fritz is a member of First United Methodist Church of Oak Park.?Assistant coach in Oak Park Youth Baseball and Softball.</p><p>Career:</p><ul><li>Self-Financed Campaign (His first time running for office)</li><li>Worked in Moscow for 3 years as a financial analyst for a division of UBS</li><li>Financial manager at Columbia Wagner Asset Management</li><li>Co-manager of the Acorn Fund</li><li>Partner and Investment Committee Member for Social Venture Partners Chicago</li><li>Certified Illinois Assessment Officer (CIAO)</li></ul></div>