Fritz Kaegi | File photo

Oak Park resident and Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi announced his run for another term on Aug. 11 in Chicago. The Democratic Primary election is on June 28, 2022.

Kaegi formally announced his campaign for reelection during a press conference held at Jeffery Plaza in Chicago’s South Shore community on Aug. 11. 

Kaegi, a longtime Oak Park resident, was surrounded by roughly a dozen politicians in support of his reelection bid, including some with west suburban constituencies like Congressman Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and First District Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson. 

Garcia lauded Kaegi for what he said is the assessor’s office accountability and transparency, issues that Kaegi ran on four years ago when he soundly beat former assessor and local powerbroker Joe Berrios. 

“A perfect example of transparency and accountability in Cook County is found in the policy that says anyone who comes to the assessor’s office needs to sign in and explain who they are there to see,” said Garcia. 

“I have found that many people who visit the assessor’s office no longer want to visit the office, because they don’t want to sign in and tell who they’re there to visit,” the congressman said. 

Kaegi said that, over his first term, his office fought “to bring transparency and equity to a rigged system that put favoritism above fairness. We got right to work fixing the corruption and unfairness of the last administration, implementing strict ethics codes, being transparent about how we are assessing properties — showing our work, and putting our models online.” 

Along with technological upgrades in the office, Kaegi also touted a passage of “important legislation like automatic renewal of the senior exemption and the omnibus affordable housing bill. All of this has contributed to eliminating distortions and biases in assessments so that our tax base is becoming more equitable.” 

Recently, Kaegi’s office has come under criticism from commercial property owners for carrying out his campaign of redistributing some of the property tax burden from residential to commercial properties. 

Writing in Crain’s earlier this month, Jack Lavin, the president and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, called the assessor’s property valuation process “arbitrary.” 

But Kaegi’s attempts to reset the county’s property tax system, so that it’s less burdensome for homeowners has been countered by activity at the Cook County Board of Review, the 3-person body that facilitates the process of taxpayers appealing over-valued property assessments. 

Last year in Oak Park and River Forest townships, the assessor’s valuations of nonresidential property totaled $81 million, an increase of 33% over the Board of Review’s total of $61 million for 2019. In 2020, the board’s total was $69 million, just a 13% jump. 

“The data support the view that Assessor Fritz Kaegi faces powerful real estate tax appeal attorneys and other political forces in his efforts to reform Cook County’s grossly unfair and logic-defying method of calculating property values,” Daily Southtown columnist Ted Slowik wrote earlier this month. 

Slowik said the board defended its readjusted total “by saying it conducts detailed examinations of tax appeal requests on an individual basis, whereas the assessor must determine valuations for more than 1.8 million parcels countywide.

During his remarks on Aug. 11, Kaegi said for “too long, our system has undervalued the biggest properties, shifting the burden on homeowners and small businesses, who pick up the tab.” 

Kaegi said the undervaluation of commercial properties during Berrios’ tenure “meant that millions of dollars were taken out of” places like South Shore each year, “when they could be spent right here. 

“That extra burden was enough to displace long-term residents from their homes,” Kaegi said. “And inaccurate, regressive assessments of homes also lead even more millions to be taken out of the community that should have stayed here.” 

Kaegi said the Berrios administration “rewarded vacancy, by cutting assessments by up to 90% for owners who stated their buildings, keeping them empty while waiting for land values to rise. This heaped extra burden on the hard-working entrepreneurs and local leaders who dedicate themselves to enlivening and sustaining commercial strips like 71st Street.” 

Kaegi said starting this year, “all properties on corridors like 71st Street will get credit for the local vacancy rate, while those with extra vacancy will only get temporary and partial relief, in line with market practice.”