Cook County

Berrios Faces County Board's Questions on Property Tax System

He's been Cook County Assessor for years, but on Tuesday, Joe Berrios made an unprecedented move, defending his record at a county board meeting.

Berrios answered questions from both commissioners and the public after a Chicago Tribune investigation exposed widespread inequities in the county's property tax system.

Berrios has been defending how his office operates since the Tribune's investigation in June, and Monday's hearing - called by the Cook County Board of Commissioners - raised even more questions over whether the appeals system is fair.

"Did you call the president of the board? Did you call the clerk? Did you call the other elected officials?" asked one-time mayoral candidate Chuy Garcia. "Did you call any other elected officials to say, 'We found flaws, and thus we’re not implementing the model'?"

Berrios defended the work of his office - where help was available Tuesday for those looking to appeal their property tax bills.

"There's no reason for me to stand up here and say Probit is terrible, Probit is junk. You know, they can make corrections to their program," Berrios said.

Berrios, who is also the chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, was also asked why tax attorneys are allowed to contribute to his campaign fund.

"They believe somehow you're tainted by the campaign contributions received by those who seek appeals before you," said Commissioner Boykin.

In that regard, Berrios said he was open to discussing changes.

"If we all want to get together and create a law that affects everyone equally, I would sit down and discuss it," he replied.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle released a statement saying there will be a third-party review, conducted pro bono by Civic Consulting Alliance, to evaluate the assessor's office and the Board of Review.

But experts in the property tax field wondered Tuesday if the assessor will implement that advice after one more study is conducted.

"We've had third, fourth, fifth and sixth parties study this and they all reached the same conclusion," Christopher Berry, of the University of Chicago, said at Tuesday's hearing.

"It’s a set of senior people in the assessor's office who do not seem to care about the truth or the taxpayers," added financial expert Robert Weissbourd.

Berrios will face an opponent next year - Fritz Kaegi, who has said he believes taking contributions from the lawyers who appeal taxes is corrupt and he will not do so in his campaign.

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