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Why Have Cook County Property Tax Assessments Increased?

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Cook County property taxes are due Wednesday. This year it is especially painful for thousands of Chicago residents whose bills have skyrocketed. Many residents have been left wondering how they got so high.

CBS 2's Dana Kozlov reports the tax hike is difficult for many to absorb; especially one family who are owners of a commercial property. The family says their latest bill absorbs any profits they might have made.

"I want what I pay for just like everyone else," said Gus Rapatas, a Cook County taxpayer.

Rapatas says he's fed up and disgusted with the latest Cook County property tax bill for the strip mall his father Pete owns and he manages near Ashland and Roosevelt on Chicago's near west side.

"Go back to '14 we're paying $32,000 plus in taxes. Three years later, we're paying $44,000 in taxes," he said.

Rapatas says the amount is painful enough and to add to that, the family gets very little in return, especially for the 22% of the bill that goes to the city.

"We didn't get any streets fixed, there wasn't any lights put up, there weren't any major changes near our property," Rapatas explained.

Public drinking, an adjacent house with a tilting wall and litany of violations and filthy alley, all despite calls to the city, are other examples of the lack of return.

His 77-year-old father resorts to cleaning the alley himself.

"Tax dollars are not going to increase services to education or public safety. They're primarily going to pay for yesterday's government through pensions," said Adam Schuster of the Illinois Policy Institute.

It's a pain shared by thousands who have seen their property assessments and taxes jump 10 to 30% or more this assessment cycle.

Cook County Deputy Assessor Of Communications, Tom Shaer, explained why the huge jump is possible.

"Well that's possible because you have to look at the previous assessment, period," said Shaer, saying you have to look at the past three years, adding that property values are rising, having recovered from the low, post-market crash values.

He blames high bills not on assessments, but local tax rates.

"Their property is worth more, and the city has decided not to lower the tax rate to offset that," he said.

Rapatas believes it's unreasonable.

"I don't think we've made $11,000 in the past few years, an extra $11,000 to accommodate the taxes," Rapatas said.

Shaer dismisses concerns the assessment rates, themselves, seem arbitrary; although critics have long blasted the assessor's office for its lack of transparency.

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