(Chicago) – April 14, 2012. Special Report: The fate of a plan by Democratic Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin of Evanston to streamline the county property tax system may be in doubt as another key Democratic commissioner is for now withholding support.
Commissioner John Fritchey (D-Chicago), who saw his own $1 million cost-savings plan to merge the offices of Recorder of Deeds and Clerk fall at the county board by one vote in March, acknowledges that county government needs more “efficiency” but is refusing to commit to Suffredin’s approach–for now.
“I think it’s axiomatic that we need to seek out efficiencies wherever we can find them, inter- or intraoffice,” said Fritchey. “I’m unsure as to how I’m going to vote for it…”
Suffredin is pushing a measure to create an Office of Tax Administration to corral and coordinate all of the county’s property tax services under one roof. Currently, the County Treasurer, Clerk, Recorder of Deeds, and Assessor each have independent chunks of responsibility.
The Suffredin plan, which will be heard in the county’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday, would order the various elected officials to sit down and to attempt to draft an interoffice agreement within 60 days on the outlines of a new tax system coordination body.
The first term commissioner’s reluctance to commit to Suffredin’s plan is likely linked to Suffredin’s deciding vote against Fritchey’s own initiative in March.
“The failure of the clerk/recorder merger was a clear victory of patronage protection over policy,” said Fritchey.
“Unless Suffredin can persuade Fritchey to get on board, his tax office idea may be doomed,” said a Cook County political observer. “Fritchey is a master of the media, if he trashes the Suffredin plan publicly that could be enough to sink it.”
Nevertheless, Fritchey is currently keeping his gun powder dry and his door open on Suffredin’s proposal.
“I’m still looking at some aspects of it and want to hear the debate,” said Fritchey.
Property tax administration reform in Cook County has exposed a political fissure within the progressive, Democratic ranks on the county board, a fissure that could derail other policy initiatives to overhaul Cook County’s creaky government structure if left to fester.
The county’s most powerful progressive, Board President Toni Preckwinkle, would be well advised to address an apparent rift on the board among her natural allies–and soon.