After a Chicago Tribune investigation alleged that mismanagement at the Cook County Assessor's Office has led to inequality in property evaluation and subsequent disparate tax burdens, Assessor Joe Berrios defended his office and detailed a new outreach plan Monday.
The Tribune's analysis found that homes in wealthier communities are often valued as lower than their market value, while properties in working-class and minority neighborhoods are assessed as higher than their actual value, meaning lower-income homeowners often pay a higher percentage of their home's value in property taxes, an allegation that carries signification racial implications.
"There is no racism in this administration, number one I wouldn't permit it," Berrios said at an oftentimes contentious news conference addressing the report Monday, where he provided his own expert to counter the Tribune's analysis.
The Tribune highlighted a home in Chicago's Lawndale neighborhood that was valued at $105,000 - but sold for $75,000 - as evidence of the flawed valuation process.
The assessor's spokesman disagreed that the home was overvalued.
"The family wanted a quick cash out, to just get out, a lot of families have done that," he said. "This was not a normal market sale."
Facing more intense scrutiny, Berrios said his office will now offer 66 more community outreach events across the county to teach residents about assessments and appeals over the next year, beginning in July.
"We fix it by going to the communities and explaining the system," Berrios said. "I've been doing it since I was elected commissioner of the Board of Review and I continue to do it."
On the topic of accepting campaign contributions from property tax attorneys - another element of the Tribune's investigation - Berrios said he would not make any changes.
"I take contributions from property tax lawyers and anyone else who wishes to contribute to my campaign, just as any other elected official can do in the state of Illinois," he said.
His comments did not sit well with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Daniel Biss.
"The notion that people are given property tax bills without adequate explanation for how that assessment is calculated, and the factors that went into it, is unacceptable," he said.
Property tax appeals continue to be a hot-button issue in the race for governor, with Chris Kennedy also declaring his support for banning property tax attorneys from contributing to assessors.