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Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios

Joseph Berrios, Cook County Assessor

Born and raised in Chicago, Joseph Berrios understands the responsibilities of true public service and the importance of ensuring that no one pays more than his or her fair share of taxes.

Berrios was elected Cook County Assessor in 2010 and entered office that December after 22 years on the Cook County Board of Review, which handles property tax appeals. His experience on the Board helped him to immediately begin an extensive evaluation of the Cook County Assessor’s Office (CCAO) and accomplish significant reform. Assessor Berrios was reelected in 2014.

Under his leadership, school districts, cities, towns and villages have saved tens of millions of dollars in borrowing because they’ve received property tax revenue on time. That is the result of tax bills going out on schedule for the past six years in a row under Assessor Berrios. Tax bills were late in the previous 34 years until he arrived and ordered his staff to reduce the property assessment cycle by creating new systems and greatly improving efficiency.

Beginning with the Berrios administration, CCAO has also collected nearly $20.6 million in erroneous exemption money and returned those funds to taxpayers - and the savings continue because erroneous exemptions remain eliminated from future years. In fact, more than $38M has been billed since a law conceived by Assessor Berrios allowed CCAO to pursue such funds. It was he who identified the need for legislation and spearheaded a bipartisan effort in Springfield to pass and sign it into law. All investigations and collections are at no cost to taxpayers.

The story of Joseph Berrios is a story of Chicago and Cook County. It is a story of hard work, education, pioneering, receiving kindness and giving back in 47 years of public service. Born on Valentine’s Day 1952, Berrios grew up as one of seven children. At age six, his family moved to a public housing high-rise at Cabrini-Green.

To help support his family, young Joseph worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant, eventually becoming a waiter. He graduated from Lane Tech High School and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting from the University of Illinois. Along the way, numerous professionals encouraged the earnest and ambitious young man. Public service was next.

In 1982, in his first campaign, Berrios was elected State Representative; he was the first Hispanic-American to serve in the Illinois General Assembly. The Board of Review followed, and his variety of professional experiences developed Berrios’ deep understanding of the importance of property tax fairness to each home and commercial property owner throughout Cook County.

Assessor Berrios streamlined the appeal process and made it more open, dramatically increased the number of community outreach appeal and exemption seminars from 75 to more than 240 and reduced wait times for taxpayer service. He has made the Assessor’s Office website easier to use and added much new and revised material, making it among the most thorough of such sites in the United States.

Berrios in 2012 proposed legislation making it possible to recover revenue lost from erroneous exemptions. It became law in 2013. As of mid-November 2017, nearly $29 million has been recovered for returning directly to schools districts and other taxing bodies. Overall, more than $47 million in would-be lost revenue has been billed, including nearly $7M in liens. Savings continue because those erroneous exemptions are also eliminated from future tax years.

The backlog of Certificate of Error applications has been cut from 10,000 six years ago to an average of only 350 on any given day – a low number by industry standards, considering there are 1.8 million pieces of property in Cook County. Since Assessor Berrios’ election, the State Equalizer has been lowered significantly, which indicates fair property assessment. Finally, the Illinois Department of Revenue Ratio Study shows Cook County assessments better reflect true property value.

These major improvements, together with tremendous community benefits from on-time tax bills and recovered erroneous exemptions money, constitute a great body of work. It has all been accomplished with 31% fewer employees—an example of lean, efficient, good government.

Assessor Berrios lives on Chicago’s Northwest Side, in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood. He is the father of three and has three grandchildren.

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118 N. Clark Street, Third Floor, Chicago, IL 60602 (312) 443-7550