Cook County Assessor's Office Audit Highlights Need for Data Modernization

Thursday, May 23, 2019

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The International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO) today released a report to the Cook County Board detailing the findings of a comprehensive audit of the Cook County Assessor’s Office (CCAO) operations. The report found a significant need to modernize the data used by the Assessors’ Office as well as invest in staffing and technology upgrades.

The IAAO audit was conducted at the invitation of Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi and his staff to identify strengths and weaknesses in current operations as he reforms the office.

The IAAO is a global community of mass appraisal expects who promote excellence in appraisal, assessment administration, and property tax policy. The audit’s goal was to identify opportunities to improve office operations, especially in the area of valuations and data modernization, and determine the resources needed to support Assessor Kaegi’s vision of an office driven by a commitment to equity, fairness, and transparency.

“The IAAO excels at identifying best practices in assessment offices around the world,” said Assessor Kaegi. “We want to adopt the highest standards in Cook County so it made sense to ask those who operate at the highest professional level in the field.”

The IAAO identified four areas of operation that needed improvement in the CCAO: staffing and skill development, adapting technology, data quality, and valuation methods. Many of the operational changes recommended in the report have been areas of focus in the first 100 days of Assessor Kaegi’s administration.

In an executive summary, the IAAO noted Assessor Kaegi’s administration “has been proactive in seeking the best practices in mass appraisal procedures and applications, [but] it faces serious challenges.” The report goes on to say “the task ahead is monumental, and the financial and resource commitment for modernization is substantial. Nevertheless, the gains for Cook County deserve the investment in resources—both human and capital.”

Anticipating the report’s findings around data modernization, Assessor Kaegi has pushed for the passage of SB 1379, the Data Modernization Bill, in the Illinois General Assembly. SB 1379, the Data Modernization Bill, would give the Cook County Assessor’s Office the ability to collect operating income and expense data for income-generating, commercial properties. Collecting income and expense data up front?—?on an anonymized and bulk basis—would bring Cook County (and other counties in Illinois who choose to opt-in to this practice) in line with professional practices used by Assessors in at least 17 other states.

SB 1379 passed the Senate in a bi-partisan, supermajority vote of 36-16-1. Passage in the House is expected by May 31st after negotiations, led by House Assistant Majority Leader Will Davis and House Revenue Committee Chairman Mike Zalewski, conclude on technical language in the bill.

Since taking office last December, Assessor Kaegi pledged to use IAAO standards for uniformity in grading the quality of his office’s assessment work. In the 2019 re-assessment of the north suburbs, the CCAO achieved IAAO standards for residential assessment in four of the five re-assessed townships.

The IAAO audit was initiated by the Civic Consulting Alliance, which was contracted in 2018 by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle to perform an external analysis of the Cook County Assessor’s Office, and paid for through a grant by the MacArthur Foundation.

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