The property-tax-assessment process in Cook County is convoluted by design. But here’s how it works in simple terms:
First, the Cook County Assessor’s Office assesses the value of every property in the county. The value of any given property is reassessed once every three years. This “assessed value” is then used to calculate the property taxes owed by each property owner.
Property owners can then appeal that assessed value in a number of ways. They can file a request with the assessor asking for a reduction, appeal the valuation to the Cook County Board of Review, file a lawsuit in which a judge will decide the value, or the property owner and the Cook County State’s Attorney will enter into a settlement agreement over the value.
Flawed property valuations and the process required to fix them are a cash cow for law firms, including those of Madigan, Burke and Cullerton, which know what strings to pull. These law firms handle the ways in which the assessed value of a property is appealed: the request with the assessor, the appeal to the Cook County Board of Review, and lawsuits.
The Cook County Board of Review – which exists solely to field appeals for assessments by the Cook County Assessor’s Office – processed appeals for more than 400,000properties in 2013.
What doesn’t add up is nearly two-thirds of those appeals were successful: an astonishing number that reveals a faulty assessment process ripe for savvy attorneys.
Any way you slice it, taxpayers lose.
Choose not to appeal your assessment and the government pockets the extra money. Choose to hire a politically connected law firm and that law firm typically pockets anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of the “winnings.” And each reduction for a politically connected business means an increase in property taxes for those lacking the right political connections.