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December 7, Amid the most tumultuous real estate market since the Great Depression, Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios produced valuations for thousands of commercial and industrial properties in Chicago that did not change from one reassessment to the next, not even by a single dollar.
That fact, one finding in an unprecedented ProPublica Illinois-Chicago Tribune analysis of tens of thousands of property records, points to a conclusion that experts say defies any logical explanation except one: Berrios failed at one of his most important responsibilities — estimating the value of commercial and industrial properties.
Please sign up today and help make a difference. Subscribe now And because commercial and industrial properties as a group were not assessed properly, residential homeowners across the county were forced to carry an additional and unnecessary burden, paying more in property taxes than they would have otherwise.
State law says the assessor must revalue property every three years. Yet Berrios, using methods hidden from the public, repeatedly produced initial valuations of commercial and industrial properties — known as first-pass values — that did not change.
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Three years later, inBerrios had taken office and the commercial real estate market had come roaring back. From tothe Cook County assessor's office produced three identical estimates of the value of this building at West Logan Boulevard and North Elston Avenue, shown last month.
Given the complexity of the commercial real estate market and its dynamic nature, experts say it is inconceivable for such values to remain the same over time. But an analysis of more than 40, parcels of commercial and industrial property in Chicago shows that, under Berrios, more than two-thirds had identical first-pass values in at least two consecutive reassessments.
Nearly a fourth of the parcels — pieces of real estate that receive their own assessment and tax bill — had the same initial value for the Chicago reassessments ofand Berrios, who is up for re-election next year, testified before the county board about his methods in July, and Board President Toni Preckwinkle ordered a study of residential assessments.
A year after that, inthe building sold for even more: And for years, the county has significantly undervalued commercial and industrial properties as a class, according to the ProPublica Illinois-Chicago Tribune analysis as well as studies conducted by the Illinois Department of Revenue.
That means the estimated total value of those properties, after appeals, was on average less than it should have been. The extra burden on homeowners was even greater for people who owned lower-priced properties, since the assessor already tended to overvalue them in comparison with other homes.
Seventy-four percent of those owners won reductions from the assessor — only to see the values snap right back to the same number in the next reassessment. Inaccurate assessments also help drive business to political allies who are property tax attorneys, including Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, the longest-serving state house speaker in U.
For assessment purposes, most properties consist of a single parcel of real estate. But some have multiple parcels, each of which receives its own assessment and its own tax bill. Assessing all that real estate is difficult — and time-consuming. The tardiness delayed property tax bills from going out and forced taxing bodies across the county to take out loans, known as tax anticipation notes, to tide them over until property taxes came in, costing taxpayers money for interest and fees.
That changed when Berrios took office.
The assessment cycle has been completed either on time or early six years in a row, after the previous assessors were late for 34 years straight.
So the estimated values should fluctuate as well. Subscribe now About 20, commercial and industrial parcels had the exact same estimates in and Another 15, did not change between and And the estimates for more than 9, parcels were identical for all three of those reassessments. The data was analyzed by parcel, not property, because more complex properties can include multiple parcels with different uses.
For example, a building may house retail stores, office space and a garage, with each segment valued separately. It is impossible to know exactly why the duplicate estimates occurred. The newspaper sued the office in Cook County Circuit Court, and last December a judge ordered the assessor to turn over the records.
But Berrios appealed the ruling — at taxpayer expense — so the values the office used remain secret for now. Then, if property owners filed appeals, the estimates could be updated later. Meanwhile, the owners of an office tower at N.
LaSalle Drive got much better news from the assessor. The skyscraper at N. The same holds true for commercial and industrial real estate.
No assessment system produces percent accurate results, so the next step is to run statistics that show whether errors fall within acceptable standards.
The most common test of accuracy is the coefficient of dispersion, or COD. It is, essentially, an error rate. That means assessments are off by an average of 20 percent. Under Berrios, the scores for commercial and industrial first-pass valuations have been as high asProPublica Illinois and the Tribune found.When Colorado’s first medical marijuana dispensaries opened in , Unique Henderson was psyched.
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