Tagproperty tax

Should the Recorder of Deeds office go away?

House of the Day #33: 3302 S. Normal

A “house” in Bridgeport at 3302 S Normal Avenue. The photographer, Eric Allix Rogers, noted in the caption that he saw on the Recorder of Deeds website that it was in foreclosure (in 2010).

When you vote in Cook County the general election this fall, which has already started here, you’ll find a question on the ballot asking you if the Recorder of Deeds office should be folded into the Clerk’s office.

It should.

The referendum is binding, and would take effect in 2020, the year of an election for a county recorder. There’s an election this year for county recorder and incumbent Karen Yarbrough is the only candidate.

The move will save taxpayer money, according to the Civic Federation, but which Yarbrough doubts. The consolidation is one step towards having a single office manage all of the county’s property records.

Currently four offices – all of which are elected – manage information about property: The recorder keeps track of property ownership and transaction; the assessor determines property value; the treasurer collects property taxes; and the clerk sets the tax rates.

Yarbrough deserves credit for the electronic record keeping innovation she brought to the office. A consolation is a further innovation. Yarbrough is correct that the recorder and clerk offices don’t have overlap, but there are efficiencies that can be devised and implemented as these two offices – along with the other two offices – exist for the same purpose: to collect property taxes.

Chicago Cityscape also advocates that the four property tax offices adopt open data policies that make property ownership, value, and tax rate info accessible.

Who are the top property owners in Cook County

235 West Van Buren Street

There are several hundred condo units in the building at 235 W Van Buren Street, and each unit is associated with multiple Property Index Numbers (PIN). Photo by Jeff Zoline.

Several people have used Chicago Cityscape to try and find who owns a property. Since I’ve got property tax data for 2,013,563 individually billed pieces of property in Cook County I can help them research that answer.

The problem, though, is that the data, from the Cook County combined property tax  website, only shows who receives the property tax bills – the recipient – who isn’t always the property’s owner.

The combined website is a great tool. Property value info comes from the Assessor’s office. Sales data comes from the Recorder of Deeds, which is another, separately elected, Cook County government agency. Finally, the Treasurer’s office, a third agency, also with a separately elected leader, sends the bills and collects the tax.

The following is a list of the top 100 (or so) “property tax bill recipients” in Cook County for the tax years 2010 to 2014, ranked by the number of associated Property Index Numbers.

Many PINs have changed recipients after being sold or divided, and the data only lists the recipient at its final tax year. A tax bill for Unit 1401 at 235 W Van Buren St was at one time sent to “235 VAN BUREN, CORP” (along with 934 other bills), but in 2011 the PIN was divided after the condo unit was sold.

Of the 100 names, DataMade’s new “probablepeople” name parsing Python script identified 13 as persons. It mistakenly identified eight names as “Person”, leaving five people in the top 100.

The actual number is closer to 90, arrived at by combining 5 names that seem to be the same (using OpenRefine’s clustering function) and removing 5 “to the current taxpayer” and empty names. You’ll notice “Altus” listed four times (they’re based in Phoenix) and Chicago Title Land Trust, which can help property owners remain private, listed twice (associated with 643 PINs).

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I’ve got property tax data for Chicago Cityscape

Wrigley Field Ahead of a Seemingless Meaningless Game, September 2011

Wrigley Field is an old baseball stadium in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. Photo by Dan X. O’Neil

1. Licensed Chicago Contractors, my website that tracks what developers and the city are proposing to build or demolish in your neighborhood, is now called Chicago Cityscape.

2. I’m grateful to Ian Dees who helped me get property tax data for 2009-2013 for over 1.4 million PINs (property identification numbers) in Cook County.

I’m going through various parts of the property tax data and figuring out how to integrate it with Chicago Cityscape. The first time Ian got the data I found out I didn’t tell him to get the right PINs. I think I’ve fixed that now.

As part of this process I’m checking properties somewhat randomly, based on the permits I’m browsing. I most recently viewed a Wrigley Field building permit at 1060 W Addison Street – for a Zac Brown concert – so I searched its PIN and how much the property is “worth”. Here goes:

Year Amount Billed Assessed Value
2013 $1,517,665.09 $8,049,996
2012 1,498,971.03 8,049,996
2011 1,493,002.47 8,865,636
2010 1,489,160.89 8,865,636
2009 1,360,673.45 10,613,423

Notice how the assessed value dropped over $2 million from 2009 to 2010. And even though it had three unique assessed values, the annually changing tax rate adjusted the amount billed. You can see this information on the Cook County Property Info portal.

The truth about Wal-Mart’s contribution to the tax roll

I recently wrote about how Wal-Mart plans to expand its reach in Chicago in a big way (30 new stores big). Politicians around the country consistently like to be heard saying how one way the store(s) will benefit the city is the additional tax revenue the city will see from property and sales tax contributions. Here are selected quotes from Chicagoans:

On Tuesday, [Chicago Mayor] Daley noted that a Wal-Mart expansion would pave the way for sales tax windfall for the cash-starved city budget.

In suburban Cook County, about 20 percent to 30 percent of all sales tax revenue comes from Wal-Marts, Daley said.

Chicago Sun-Times, June 15, 2010

“Everyone realizes we need the tax revenue,” [Alderman Anthony] Beale [9th Ward] said.

Chicago Sun-Times, May 5, 2010

Ald. Richard Mell, 33rd, a pro-union alderman, lamented Wal-Mart’s domination of the nation’s retail market and its tendency to sell foreign-made products, but voted for Pullman Park because of the need for jobs and additional tax revenue.

Chicago Tribune, June 30, 2010

Comparatively, Wal-Mart brings in little property tax revenue on a per acre basis, according to a study from Sarasota County (Florida) and Public Interest Projects and posted by Citiwire. I’ve summarized their findings:

  • Single-family home: $8,200 per acre
  • Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club: $150.00-$200.00 per acre
  • Southgate Mall: $22,000 per acre
  • High-rise mixed-use project in downtown Sarasota: $800,000

That last one’s the kicker! From the Citiwire article, “‘It takes a lot of WalMarts to equal the contribution of that one mixed-use building,’ [Peter] Katz noted.” Read the full story for more examples and for more discussion on how this specific breakdown of costs and benefits is only one way to look at fiscal and retail impact.

If the same tax revenues were true for Chicago or Cook County (and I can’t say it is or isn’t), then the city planners and aldermen should be seeking developers to build high-rise mixed-use projects. Right.

But the issue Chicago and other cities have is that Wal-Mart is one of the most willing developers – they will build where no one else will. They have capital that no one else has. They have the resources to sway the population. It’s more politically difficult to resist such a willing partner like Wal-Mart than it is to seek relationships with developers who have the resources to create more beneficial mixed-use projects in the neighborhoods Wal-Mart seems to prefer.

© 2017 Steven Can Plan

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