Coles Co. (ECWd) -
For those residing in Coles County, we urge you to pay attention to this article and the dozens to follow as this may become one of the largest series of articles exposing malfeasance in local government since our exposure of problems at College of Dupage.
Mattoon Township was hit with their first commercial real estate assessment in approximately 16 years, a failure blamed on multiple past Supervisors of Assessments. As we started to dive into the sequence of events it became evident that substantial laws were not followed, if not purposely disregarded by the current Supervisor of Assessments, Karen Biddle and other county officials.
The Coles County Supervisor of Assessments is bound by law when it comes to publishing property tax assessments. As it relates to the property tax assessment issue, which is bringing dozens of people to the County Board meetings over the last few months, we have identified serious deficiencies that appear to be leading the County into a Federal lawsuit.
35 ICLS 200/12-10 - At the top of the list of assessments there shall be a notice in substantially the following form printed in type no smaller than eleven point:
"NOTICE TO TAXPAYERS
Looking at the publication in the newspaper (8 full pages), we find that not only did they not use an eleven point type (font), there was not even a reference on any of the 8 pages reflecting the required "NOTICE TO TAXPAYERS"
The remaining statutory requirements are listed below in number 8 font, which is 2.5 sizes larger than the 5.5 font size published in the paper. As you probably can tell, it's impossible to read and difficult at best with a magnifying glass. In addition to them not complying with the font size, they failed to even follow the law requiring of certain items to be listed in the publication, which each of those are exposed in red below. As if all this is not bad enough, they instructed the newspaper to print it as small as possible to save money, which means they ignored the law!
Median Level of Assessment--(insert here the median level of assessment for the assessment district) (MISSING FROM PUBLICATION!) Your property is to be assessed at the above listed median level of assessment for the assessment district. You may check the accuracy of your assessment by dividing your assessment by the median level of assessment. The resulting value should equal the estimated fair cash value of your property. If the resulting value is greater than the estimated fair cash value of your property, you may be over-assessed. If the resulting value is less than the fair cash value of your property, you may be under-assessed. You may appeal your assessment to the Board of Review."(MISSING FROM PUBLICATION!)
The notice published under this Section shall also include the following:
(1) A statement advising the taxpayer that assessments of property, other than farm land and coal, are required by law to be assessed at 33 1/3% of fair market value. (MISSING FROM PUBLICATION!)
(2) The name, address, phone number, office hours, and, if one exists, the website address of the assessor. (MISSING FROM PUBLICATION!)
(3) A statement advising the taxpayer of the steps to follow if the taxpayer believes the full fair market value of the property is incorrect or believes the assessment is not uniform with other comparable properties in the same neighborhood. The statement shall also (i) advise all taxpayers to contact the township assessor's office, in those counties under township organization, first to review the assessment, (ii) advise all taxpayers to file an appeal with the board of review if not satisfied with the assessor review, and (iii) give the phone number to call for a copy of the board of review rules; if the Board of Review maintains a web site, the notice must also include the address of the website where the Board of Review rules can be viewed. (MISSING FROM PUBLICATION!)
(4) A statement advising the taxpayer that there is a deadline date for filing an appeal with the board of review and indicating that deadline date (30 days following the scheduled publication date). (COMPLIED WITH)
(5) A brief explanation of the relationship between the assessment and the tax bill. (MISSING FROM PUBLICATION!)
(6) In bold type, a notice of possible eligibility for the various homestead exemptions as provided in Section 15-165 through Section 15-175 and Section 15-180. (MISSING FROM PUBLICATION!)
The newspaper shall furnish to the local assessment officers as many copies of the paper containing the assessment list as they may require.
With these many failures of statutory obligations, we contend the County Board would best serve the taxpayers by recognizing this non-compliant publication as more than sufficient evidence to declare it void and simply implement the previous year assessments, as if none were ever done this year, which is no different than the previous 16 years of not doing them.
To date the County Board has taken the position there is nothing they can do now that the assessments were published. We contend there is. Simply follow the law on cure of errors which states in part:
35 ILCS 200/21-185 - ....Any irregularity or informality in the assessment rolls or tax lists, or in any of the proceedings connected with the assessment or levy of the taxes, or any omission or defective act of any other officer or officers connected with the assessment or levying of the taxes, may be, in the discretion of the court, corrected, supplied and made to conform to law by the court, or by the person (in the presence of the court) from whose neglect or default it was occasioned.
If the County were to take the appropriate steps to correct these errors prior to a lawsuit, it would make those matters moot, thus no court action needed. It's called doing the right thing and fixing what you know is broke before being forced to by the courts.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is this is just one of over a dozen violations of law we have identified of which they all have ties to these comercial assessment problems the county is facing.