The Cook County Assessor’s Office’s 100 Day Plan Scorecard: A commitment to fairness, ethics and transparency

Assessor Fritz Kaegi, a Chi Hack Night attendee, and Chief Data Officer Rob Ross publish the CCAO’s code and data models live at Chi Hack Night on April 17th, 2019.

As part of our commitment to transparency, The Cook County Assessor’s Office is releasing the final report on our 100 Day Plan. This is the second and final update, which covers all the departments of the Cook County Assessor’s Office (CCAO) with a focus on changes and accomplishments since our 50 Day Update, published in January.

FORMAT OF THIS REPORT

For each department, the CCAO lists highlights of the past 50 days as well as future goals.

At the end of the narrative update is an appendix of internal documents developed by the CCAO leadership team to track our progress. The slides will be a complete account of all the tasks completed or attempted in our first 100 days.

Each slide features a completion rating:

ADMINISTRATION AND OPERATIONS

Highlights:

· International Association of Assessing Officers Audit
· Visiting Assessor’s Offices throughout the country for best practices
· Internal culture change & listening sessions with employees

Next: Working with Bureau of Asset Management to design our space to be more taxpayer and employee friendly.

The CCAO, in partnership with the Civic Consulting Alliance, has engaged the International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO) to complete a practices and procedures audit. Phase 1 of this audit is complete with a report due in spring of 2019.

Operationally, the CCAO has focused on five areas of improving operations, with effects across departments. These areas are:

● Improving and maintaining quality data;

● Enhancing valuation methods and techniques;

● Sustaining agile technology in office operations;

● Increasing professional and technical training of staff; and

● Obtaining additional highly technical staff to enhance operations.

These areas of focus were developed with the IAAO as part of their audit of the CCAO. The CCAO will continue to develop its three-year strategic plan around these initiatives.

The CCAO has consulted with Assessors at our peer offices across the country including the Los Angeles County Office of the Assessor, the Santa Clara County Assessor, and the City of Milwaukee Assessor’s Office — in developing our strategic planning initiatives.

The office has rolled out an internal, online suggestion box where employees can anonymously submit feedback to the Assessor. In addition, the CCAO formed a small committee of seven employees, representing each department, who will begin to implement these suggestions submitted by fellow employees.

In accordance with the CCAO’s Employment Plan, all employees have completed the annual Shakman Training for 2019.

Finally, two town hall-style meetings were held in the last two months, during which employees were brought up to date on CCAO changes and were given the opportunity to directly ask Assessor Kaegi about changes in the office.

Assessor Kaegi speaks to CCAO staff about the accomplishments of the office’s first 100 days.

LEGAL

Highlights:

· All FOIA requests fulfilled
· New rules for appeals
· Visitor’s log

Next: Additional ethics training

Significantly, under Assessor Kaegi, the CCAO has fulfilled every Freedom of Information request from a member of the media. We have not denied any access to requested reports or data, a significant change from the policy in recent years.

The CCAO has also published a set of official rules for doing business with our office.

Under Rule 10, all documents filed in support of an appeal must include only the attorney or practitioner’s unique identification number. Thus, the identity of an attorney, practitioner, or law firm is kept anonymous so the valuations analyst does not know which firm is handling the appeal, which will ensure fairness.

In addition, a public visitor’s log, consistent with the CCAO’s executive order on ethics signed on day one, has been updated monthly.

Finally, the CCAO has completed a revision of its discrimination, harassment, and sexual harassment policy. All CCAO employees will complete training in this policy during Spring of 2019.

POLICY

Highlight:

· Illinois State Senate passage of SB 1379, The Data Modernization Bill, in bi-partisan, supermajority vote

Next: A vote on SB 1379 in the House Revenue Committee then onto the full House for a floor vote

The primary policy achievement during our first 100 days was the passage of SB 1379, the Data Modernization Bill, in the Illinois Senate on April 4th, 2019 in a bi-partisan, super-majority vote of 36–16–1. The bill will next go to the House Revenue Committee then on to the full House for a vote.

There is an urgency to these votes on SB 1379 as it is Next year, we will reassess the South suburbs of Cook County. After 2020, the South suburbs won’t be assessed again until 2023. It is crucial that our office is equipped with the data needed to deliver accurate and fair assessments next year.

Also, in response to an issue raised about the Class 9 incentive for affordable housing, the CCAO undertook a project to determine the number of properties that qualified for the Class 9 incentive in the 2018 assessment year, contact each property owner, and inform them of any missing or outstanding documentation that must be submitted to our office.

This project has significant impact on the support of affordable housing throughout the county.

The CCAO is working with legislative leaders on a bill that would allow for the automatic renewal of the senior homestead exemption. Details around the technical implications of the bill are part of this discussion to ensure fraud does not occur. This bill would remove a significant impediment to seniors who qualify for this exemption.

VALUATIONS

Highlights:

· Unprecedented transparency and visibility into assumptions, sourcing and methodology
· Met IAAO standards for first 3 out 4 townships
· Detailed residential and commercial reporting for each township

Next: Better data through passage of SB 1379, access to more high quality databases (e.g. Fannie and Freddie Mac appraisal databases, MLS, etc.)

The primary achievement for the Valuations department is a significant set of reports for each township, explaining our methodology, underlying assumptions, and formulas. Our goal was to post these reports publicly on the same day they were mailed to taxpayers. By the time the re-assessments for Elk Grove were mailed out, we had achieved on-time delivery of these reports for each township.

This reporting is part of our effort to provide greater predictability and certainty to our assessment system. The next step toward better predictability and accuracy, especially in commercial and apartment buildings, requires the passage of SB 1379 (see Policy section).

In conjunction with the Data department, we have continued to deliver assessment reports on time. We have mailed each township on time while also making slight changes to the design to make them easier to understand. A more ambitious redesign of the forms is planned for the summer/fall of 2019.

The CCAO continues to work with the International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO) on an audit of the office’s operations. The second phase of the audit will include ongoing consultation with experts in valuations and assessment.

Our reporting showed that in three out of the four townships to undergo re-assessment, the CCAO met the IAAO standards for uniformity and vertical equity.

Assessor Kaegi and Chief Data Officer Rob Ross at Chi Hack Night.

DATA

Highlights:

· The release of our underlying code as well as our assessment and modeling data
· Developing new, more accurate assessment models in only 67 days

Next: Create a next generation model for commercial property assessment, improved in-house data collection methods, implementation of GIS technology

The Data team, in conjunctions with the Valuations team, delivered on-time assessment notices for the northern suburbs as well as significant data reporting on each township. Performance statistics are calculated at each step of the residential valuations process, so that changes in Coefficient of Dispersion (COD), Price-Related Differential (PRD), Price-Related Bias (PRB), and median ratio can be identified at each step, per IAAO recommendations.

The CCAO released its underlying code as well as its assessment and modeling data in front of a packed, sold-out crowd at Chi Hack Night–the city’s weekly gathering of coders, journalists, academics, and civic technologists.

The CCAO published its code and data on GitLab, an open-source online platform for software development, as well as the Cook County Open Data Portal. Publishing the code on the Data Portal is part of the CCAO’s ongoing partnership with the Cook County Bureau of Technology.

This new system for publishing and updating code will allow journalists, academics, and the public to monitor our performance, and even suggest changes to our methods that can improve our accuracy.

A more detailed explanation of this project can be found here.

The CCAO is engaged in a long term effort improve both residential data quality and integrity. The vision for this includes:

● Gathering better and broader characteristics of residential housing.

● Improving in-house data collection methods, as well as looking to outside, third-party data sources.

● Leveraging the county’s GIS technology to move towards 3-D building indexing, in which every building will have a unique geo-logic/referenced ID number, maintained by the CCAO.

INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

Highlight: New phone systems and equipment

Next: Mobile field devices, a relaunched website

The CCAO is preparing for the implementation of iasWorld (Tyler Technologies’ CAMA system) that will have implications for staffing needs, training, workflow, budgets across the entire office. Until implementation is complete, much remains unknown about the implications. The project was originally schedule to go live December 2018.

In the past 100 days we have been working with the Bureau of Technology to put pressure on Tyler Technologies that the project must go live this December. Unfortunately, despite our continued efforts, Tyler has once again fallen behind schedule on the project plan. The County has been helpful in getting us resources to ensure we meet our obligations to the project (which is occurring during our busiest time of year). We hope that Tyler begins to take this project as seriously as everyone does in the County.

The CCAO has scheduled a spring of 2019 beta test/pilot of their mobile field app, with Tyler Technologies, which would enable field units to record assessment attributes and other data points digitally, from the field. This project is delayed due to the implementation of iasWorld.

Assessor Kaegi speaks at the second listening tour event at Trickster Art Gallery in Schaumburg, IL.

COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH

Highlights:

· Listening tour launch
· Weekly media and public appearances

Next: Ongoing education about the complexities of our property tax system, increased racial equity in outreach

In the Communications department, the most significant achievement since the last update was the launch of the countywide listening tour with stops planned in April, May, and June in all 17 Cook County districts.

Each event on the tour includes a presentation from the Assessor on property tax 101, a moderated Q&A with a local community leader, and open Q&A with the audience. CCAO staff and staff from the Commissioners’ offices accept appeals forms and are available to assist taxpayers with questions before and after each event. When possible, simultaneous translation is available in languages that reflect each district’s population (Hindi, Polish, Spanish, and Korean, with more languages, captioning, and ASL available at future events scheduled in May and June).

In addition, more than 30 outreach events have been held throughout the county since Assessor Kaegi took office, including in the northern suburbs where re-assessments are occurring. The CCAO continues to schedule outreach events in the southern suburbs and city of Chicago.

The Assessor also made appearances in the media to explain the CCAO’s work, including:

A second appearance on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight

● Interviews with WGN-TV, WBEZ, and Polvision/Polskie Radio

● Meetings with newspaper editorial boards

The Assessor has also spoken to several community and professional groups including:

● The Appraisal Institute, Chicago Real Estate Council, Real Estate Investment Association and the Technology Manufacturing Association

● City Club of Chicago, Civic Federation, and Chicago Bar Association/Illinois Bar Association

● The Northwest Side Housing Center, Preservation Compact, and Disabled American Veterans of Berwyn

● Central Street Neighbors of Evanston, Evanston Chamber of Commerce, Cook County Assessors’, and The Revival Fellowship Church of God In Christ

The CCAO identified a need to create educational materials for the public about the county’s property tax system, which stretches across multiple agencies and involves significant differences from the “millage rate” system used in other jurisdictions. We noticed even actively engaged real estate participants and government policy-makers would benefit from in-depth discussions on the complexity of Illinois’s system. Materials to address this need are forthcoming.

At the conclusion of the CCAO’s assessment of the northern suburbs, in late 2019, the office will publish a broad overview of the data and trends found in its assessments, and in the real estate data driving them.

Following the Assessor’s Listening Tour in April and May of 2019, the CCAO will continue experimenting and iterating on the format of our outreach events. The CCAO is also committed to conducting outreach and engagement through the lens of racial equity, ensuring the information we provide is accessible by all groups.

A full report on all 100 Day Plan Objectives and Initiatives can be found here.

FUTURE UPDATES

The CCAO plans future updates and public engagement efforts to keep the public appraised of our efforts to reform Cook County’s property tax system.

Please follow our Facebook and Twitter accounts for regular updates from our office.

Signed, 
The Assessor and Deputy Assessors of the Cook County Assessor’s Office

Cook County Assessor: Fritz Kaegi
Chief Deputy Assessor: Sarah Garza Resnick
Deputy Assessor — Chief Administrative Officer: Annette C. Moore
Deputy Assessor — Chief Communications Officer: Scott Smith
Deputy Assessor — Chief Data Officer: Robert Ross
Deputy Assessor — Chief Information Officer: Nathan Bernacchi
Deputy Assessor — Chief Legal Officer: Tatia Gibbons
Deputy Assessor — Chief Policy Officer: Abdelnasser Rashid
Deputy Assessor — Chief Valuations Officer: Donald J. Meyer