CN June 15 2017

We’re just a couple of weeks away from the dreaded “second installment” of Cook County property taxes, which will be due, most likely, on August 1.

But if you’re a property owner, have you ever scanned that bill and wondered, how did they arrive at this number? Why am I being told to pay this, compared to my neighbors or people with identical properties in other parts of the county?

Well, as Jason Grotto and his colleagues pointed out so vividly in this week’s Tribune series An Unfair Burden, the system just might be as messed up as you always suspected.

The series required more than a year of reporting, and the analysis of more than a million tax documents from 2009 to the present.

Their principal conclusion? People with resources are paying a lower tax rate than people without resources.  The situation is so stark that they found people in $75,000 houses paying  almost double the tax rates people with million-dollar houses were paying a few miles away.

It all has to do with algorithms, outdated computer systems, tradition and politics, all of which comes together in the Assessor’s office.

“We always had a notion that this was going on and just no one has ever been able to get underneath it,”Grotto explains. “You know, the fact of the matter is the reason why we’re able to do it is because of modern technology. We’re able now with a personal computer or laptop to analyze 100-million property tax records. We’re able to load them into mapping software. We’re able to run statistics on them, and so it really is this is an office that has functioned for decades with very little oversight, very little attention because it’s so opaque and convoluted, and it’s only because of modern technology that we’ve been able to do what we did.”

It’s a dramatic series in the Tribune, and an enlightening discussion on Chicago Newsroom. We hope you’ll watch.

Or listen here on SoundCloud.

Or read the transcript of the entire show HERE: CN transcript June 15 2017


About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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