Assessor trying to ensure Cook County property values adjusted to reflect ‘coronavirus effect’

All property owners will get a notification from the Cook County assessor’s office. Assessor Fritz Kaegi said his staff will “have to bend over backwards to keep on schedule” but he’s optimistic they’ll be able to get things done on time.

Aerial photo from suburban Berwyn looking towards cloud covered Chicago Friday March 27, 2020.
Aerial photo from suburban Berwyn looking towards cloud covered Chicago Friday March 27, 2020.
Brian Ernst/Sun-Times file

Knowing many residents are facing economic uncertainty from the coronavirus pandemic, Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi said Friday that all homes, businesses and other real estate parcels could see their property values adjusted due to COVID-19’s effect on the market.

The first-term assessor said analysts in his office are looking for data from natural disasters and other economic crises to understand what could happen to property values in Cook County, but even with those comparisons the challenge coronavirus presents is unmatched.

“This is different because, for all of us to be safe and to get ahead of [coronavirus], we’ve had to shut down so many different sectors of the economy and economic activity,” Kaegi said.

“We’re trying to be mindful of all of that and try to reflect as best we can with the data that we have how the crisis is affecting different people’s lives,” Kaegi said. “We know that we won’t be perfect in that — the future is a little bit unknown, and how this crisis unfolds is uncertain, but we’re going to be doing the best we can. We figure it’s better to do that, rather than proceed as if nothing had happened.”

Fritz Kaegi
Fritz Kaegi, then Cook County Assessor Democratic primary candidate, in 2018
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

All property owners will get a notification from the assessor’s office. Owners of west and south suburban properties already scheduled to be reassessed this year will receive a reassessment notice, while property owners in the northern suburbs and Chicago will receive a notice letting them know that the coronavirus may have affected their property values and what their new, adjusted value could be.

Property owners in Chicago and the northern suburbs can submit appeals of their latest assessments, which will be processed by analysts. Eventually, all property owners will receive a mailing with their property’s adjusted value.

Their current assessed values could be adjusted to either the appealed value or the “coronavirus effect” value, a spokesman said.

The appeals period will be shortened from the typical 40 days to 35 days in order to make sure the assessor’s office will be able to hand off their assessments to the county’s Board of Review on time.

Empty sidewalk in front of suburban bungalows on the in Berwyn Friday March 27, 2020.
Empty sidewalk in front of suburban bungalows on the in Berwyn Friday March 27, 2020.
Brian Ernst/Sun-Times file

The normal period for a re-review is being eliminated, but the office is encouraging people to submit requests online to meet with the assessor’s staff members to have their questions and concerns answered.

Kaegi said his staff will “have to bend over backwards to keep on schedule” but he’s optimistic they’ll be able to get things done on time. The team has been working hard the last few weeks to adjust to the circumstances and try to make sure they’re doing the best for homeowners and businesses.

When asked if he’d support potentially pushing back the due date for property tax bills, Kaegi said the focus should be on the federal government supporting state and local governments instead of potentially taking funding from the county’s hospitals, which are the “front line of defense.”

“The financial ability of our front line of defense depends on the property tax system but … the federal government can also backstop it,” Kaegi said. “So how do we pay for that frontline defense? That’s why focusing on the federal government and the support that it’s providing is paramount in all of this. It has unique fiscal ability, unique liquidity, to provide support to the front line of defense against [coronavirus], and they should be doing that. But if they’re not, if our federal government is failing on that, how do we support the front line of defense? The property tax system has to be there.”