A firestorm Thursday over Cook County property taxes took place when Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios was expected to defend himself and his office before a finance committee. This comes after a recent report accused his office of playing favorites with tax bills. But Berrios was a no-show and sent his staff instead.
"Joe Berrios and the Cook County assessor’s office, they represent the runaway gentrification train that got black folk wrapping up their houses like the grapes of wrath and leaving Cook County," said Eric Russell of the Tree of Life Justice League.
Angry words at the hearing where Berrios was to testify about problems recent studies have found in his office.
"Berrios assessment process means higher taxes for home owners, especially black and Latino and working class white communities," said Naomi Davis of Our Revolution Illinois. "While giving massive tax breaks to billionaires, millionaires and commercial property owners."
But Berrios was a no-show, leaving the testimony to consultants and his assistant assessor for valuation and appeals.
"At the end of the day, with the expert assistance and the 500 years of experience we have in our office of employees who have been there a long time," said assistant assessor for valuation and appeals Tom Jaconetty. "We believe we will be able to create a better, fairer more uniform assessment now--that’s the goal."
"An open posture of transparency and collaboration, which is not the case today, will be necessary to fix critical equity issues in the assessment process," said Sarah Brune of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
Commissioners pressed the assessor’s office and the civic consulting alliance on allegations that lower income communities are harder hit by assessments than wealthy ones.
Among the consultants findings the appeals process makes Cook County taxes even more regressive.
All points that Berrios’ opponent wants voters to remember on primary day.
"From day one I am going to be attacking this problem so that we have fairness for everyone in Cook County," said candidate for county assessor Fritz Kaegi.
Commissioners are being urged to appoint a special prosecutor to look into Berrios’ valuation practices and launch an tax appeal of their own on more than 50 downtown properties.