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Mattoon Township businesses see over 100 percent property tax hike in one year

Illinois Watchdog.Org

Thursday, January 4, 2018  |  Article  |  By Cole Lauterbach

Taxes, property (87)
A federal lawsuit alleges that a central Illinois county’s assessor has been appraising property based on what the county needs to spend, not what the business is worth.

Business owners in a Coles County township say they were taxed at very unfair rates compared to their neighbors elsewhere in the county. Their lawsuit, which was appealed in federal court last week, says some of the businesses there saw property tax bills rise drastically one year. The hike didn't come from an increase in local levies but in significant appraisal increases.

Their lawyer, Erick Kaardal, said the assessor simply raised the value of their properties to match what the county needed to get around state laws limiting big hikes like that.

“They’re basically using the assessment procedures to increase valuations on the property for the purpose of borrowing and spending rather than having the valuations be linked to market value,” he said.

The businesses in question reside in Mattoon Township, where they paid 97 percent of the newly raised taxes that the county received in tax year 2016, according to the suit. They contend that this is a breach of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

The county assessor's office would not respond to active cases but Brian Bower, Coles County State’s Attorney, said that previous Supreme Court rulings have said the appropriate venue for the challenge is in a local court. “We’re hopeful the Seventh Circuit sees it the same way,” he said.

Kaardal said that the federal court has jurisdiction if the state courts don’t provide “an adequate remedy.”

Property tax extension limit laws, or P-TELL, limit the amount of a property tax hike to either 5 percent or the last year’s Consumer Price Index, whichever is less. Kaardal says the implications of the case would affect every county in Illinois with tax limits. According to the Illinois Department of Revenue, 39 counties in Illinois have property tax extension limitation laws and could be affected by this lawsuit.