Board of Review Commissioner Michael Cabonargi records The Aldercast. [Don Vincent/The Daily Line]

The Cook County Board of Review — a three-member quasi-judicial body that hears property tax appeals — just closed the books on a record year.

With property tax bills are expected to go out on time, the office is likely staring down the barrel of more record appeals, as Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi picks up the reforms launched at the tail end of former Assessor Joseph Berrios’ tenure in the wake of ProPublica and the Chicago Tribune’s reporting on assessment inequities.

The board ruled on a record number of appeals in 2018, which are based on 2017 assessments, and encountered “more record volume” during this most recent cycle — about 245,000 appeals, Commissioner Michael Cabonargi said on The Daily Line’s Aldercast.

Cabonargi blames two things: the ease and access of bringing a complaint to the board on its online appeal system, known as DAPS, and that “property taxes are in the news a lot more. Every time during campaign season, when folks talk about high property taxes I think it makes people look at their bill and think maybe I should appeal it.”

“The curve and the volume of appeals we’re getting is unsustainable, it really is,” Cabonargi said, echoing claims he and colleagues have made during past budget hearings.

Source: Board Of Review Annual report, 2017-18 — spikes in 2009, 2012, and 2015 denote city reassessments, which are more complicated than those in the suburbs.

Cabonargi did not criticize Berrios but did say that better assessments “will give people more confidence in the system and they will be less likely to file.”

However, reform will take time, Cabonargi said, and nothing indicates appeals will slow in the upcoming 2019 assessment session, which launches Aug. 1.

“As long as people are receiving a tax bill, they’re going to want someone to take a look at it,” Cabonargi said.

Cabonargi said his office has not looked at the assessor’s new model, nor the old model, nor at any 2019 assessment year properties.

“I know nothing more of what I’ve read in the papers… That’s his office and it’s his model,” Cabonargi said.

The Board’s review involves the assessor’s initial assessment, plus evidence provided by property owners and marketing data. While the assessor should incorporate the board’s findings into its later assessments, “The assessor can change it back if the assessor wants to,” Cabonargi said.

The Tribune investigation found a reliance on appeals only made the assessment system less fair, and for many commercial buildings, assessments did not change from year to year.

“Wealthier neighborhoods appealed at much higher rates and regularly received significant assessment reductions even though homes in those areas were more likely to be undervalued,” the Tribune wrote. “In poorer neighborhoods, homeowners not only are more likely to have their properties overvalued by the assessor, they are less likely to appeal.”

The Board says it performed more than 130 outreach events in 2018 to help address the gap between rich and poor neighborhoods, where property tax attorneys might not be proactively reaching out.

The year before Berrios was elected, the Tribune reported 27 percent of successful appeals included relief granted by the assessor. In 2015, it was 61 percent.

Even before Berrios took office, the Board of Review granted reductions in more than 60 percent of the cases brought before it.

The Board stayed silent on Kaegi’s fight in Springfield for a data modernization bill, SB 1379, which did not win passage this past session. Kaegi has pledged to return to fight for it this fall. He argues the data he wants is much of what property owners bring to the Board of Review.  

“We have to respect each other’s sovereignty,” Cabonargi said, but suggested Kaegi might be able to pursue other fixes. “Better data makes better assessments, but better technology, better talent makes better assessments as well.”

More than anything, Cabonargi said he’d “like to make it boring, where people know that they can go in and see the Board of Review’s results and see how we came to our conclusions, how they can challenge those to the board, or [Property Tax Appeal Board] or elsewhere and they feel engaged in it.”

On this episode of the Aldercast, Cabonargi also discusses the upcoming 2020 Democratic Convention in Milwaukee and the Democratic Party of Illinois’ delegate process, why we can blame the Great Depression on the Board’s wonky schedule, and employee burnout.