Ald. Tom Tunney Credit: Tom Tunney / Facebook

LAKEVIEW – A neighborhood group fired the opening shots in the battle for the 44th Ward seat on the Chicago City Council, accusing Ald. Tom Tunney of not doing enough to keep property taxes in Lakeview from skyrocketing.

Neighbors for a Better Lakeview, a nonprofit social welfare organization that is not required to disclose its donors, sent a glossy mailer to 8,000 Lakeview residents last week featuring a picture of Tunney and asking him: “are you going to help us?”

“We want to start a conversation around the issue and have an open dialogue,” said group founder Erin Connelly. “We want our alderman to be proactive.”

Connelly said rising property taxes were the “main issue” she hears about when she goes door to door for the group.

Tunney said he was doing everything possible to help residents of his ward shoulder the burden of rising property taxes. In Lakeview Township, which includes the 44th Ward, the median increase in assessments was 31.2 percent, according to Assessor Joe Berrios’ office.

The median sale price for single-family homes and other non-condo residential properties increased from $610,000 in 2015 to $790,000 in 2017.

“I pay these property taxes,” Tunney said. “I am as angry as anyone.”

However, most of the increase is due to the fact that the real estate market in Lakeview is firing on all cylinders, Tunney said. Berrios’ office has said the same, though it is simultaneously implementing a new assessment model that is designed to be more fair – potentially increasing valuations of high-value properties in neighborhoods like Lakeview.

“The neighborhood is getting better and better,” Tunney said, while acknowledging that some longtime residents will have trouble keeping up with the tax hikes prompted by new assessments. “I’m not going to minimize the impact of the increase.”

Tunney, a restaurateur who has served on the City Council since 2003, has already drawn two opponents in February’s election: Patrick Shine, an attorney and former member of the Air Force, and Alexandra Lipman, a recent graduate of DePaul University.

“I enjoy my job,” said Tunney, who has approximately $125,000 in cash on hand in his campaign account, according to records filed with the state Board of Elections.

Connelly said her group had not determined who it would endorse in next year’s municipal election.

“It is great if all of our property is worth more, but the huge jump is tough to understand,” Connelly said. “And there has to be some sort of solution for people who can’t cope with the increase.”

In March, Berrios lost his bid for re-election to investor Fritz Kaegi, who promised to reform the property tax assessment system and make it more transparent and fair. Berrios’ office has declined to reveal exactly how the new formula works.

Tunney said he would work with Kaegi to develop a ”holistic” approach that reduces the amount of government services and programs are funded with property tax revenues as well as developing a new assessment model.

In addition, Tunney said he had worked to ensure that all residents of the 44th Ward get all of the property tax exemptions they are entitled to, which can reduce tax bills by more than $1,000. His office also held “workshop after workshop” to educate property owners on how to appeal their assessments.

“We’re working hard,” Tunney said. “In some ways, we are a victim of our own success.”

Connelly, a consultant who lives in Lakeview with her young son, said her group also planned to be active in the elections in the 46th and 47th wards and to focus on public safety issues as well as concerns about lead in the city’s drinking water.

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