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February 3, 2023

Coles County S.O.A. Sued For FOIA Violations; Charging Excessive Fees –

By John Kraft & Kirk Allen

On December 4, 2022

Coles Co., IL. (ECWd) –

Coles County Supervisor of Assessments, Denise Shores, has attempted to charge an excessive fee for bulk electronic real estate assessment records, in the amount of $800.00 to Sage Information Services.

This fee is not consistent with fee provisions in the Illinois Freedom of Information Act and has resulted in a FOIA lawsuit filed against Coles County.

Additionally, the designated Coles County FOIA Officer did not reply to a FOIA request.

According to the complaint, Shores indicated that SAGE would have to pay $800 for DEVNET to “change the format of the information.” Plaintiff indicated that DEVNET has provided similar information in various other Illinois counties without a charge of $800 – sometimes it was provided free of charge.

Plaintiff is asking for the requested records, with charges not to exceed the maximum stated in the FOI ACT, and payment of attorney fees, costs, and civil penalties.

Coles County is to answer the complaint by December 12, 2022.

Complaint

 

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9 Comments
  • Cody Heer
    Posted at 08:40h, 05 December

    Thanks for bringing this to light! We were taken advantage by Clark County charging us $1500 for property owners and shape files many years back; because of apparently bad legal advise “that they are allowed to charge a fee”!

  • Michael Hagberg
    Posted at 13:49h, 05 December

    I had to pay $100 for the assessment data in St Clair County. I thought this was unfair and asked them to justify the hours required to provide the requested information. I was told it doesn’t matter how long it takes to export the data. The requested file was larger than 4MB (megabytes) and ILCS law allowed them to charge up to $100, therefore my fee was $100.

    I’m not sure when that law was enacted, but it’s now common to email up to a 20MB file. A request for an excel export that takes minimal time to prepare should not entail the maximum fee of $100.

    • Cody Heer
      Posted at 14:29h, 05 December

      Exactly, the taxpayers are paying for these offices already!

      And in my oil and gas business; they “require” info for free from us and then have been wanting big money for the full electric data files! Looks like the state has been breaking their own laws for years!

      One of the retired state data ladies, Alison Lecouris emailed me these prices, insane!
      For
      Back in 2011, was the total cost for all the IL wells, and did that include all the log rasters?
      $15,000 for all well headers, another $5,000 for the tops/pays and $60,000 for all tif imaged logs.

  • Michael Hagberg
    Posted at 14:02h, 05 December

    I found the ILCS reference
    (5 ILCS 140/6) (from Ch. 116, par. 206)
    Sec. 6. Authority to charge fees.

    (a-5) If a voluminous request is for electronic records and those records are not in a portable document format (PDF), the public body may charge up to $20 for not more than 2 megabytes of data, up to $40 for more than 2 but not more than 4 megabytes of data, and up to $100 for more than 4 megabytes of data.

    (f) apply only to commercial requests.
    (Source: P.A. 97-579, eff. 8-26-11; 98-1129, eff. 12-3-14.)

    I hadn’t noticed that this section ONLY applies to COMMERCIAL requests. My request was NOT commercial, but the FOAI officer decided that no individual would request such information, therefore they deemed it a commercial request.

    I have since used the data to add a number of houses to the tax roles. I’m not sure why the assessor visited the property and failed to see the building, but the property owners were more than happy to pay property taxes based up on a vacant lot. I’ve also corrected mailing addresses where home owners never received a bill due, likely for them it got corrected before the tax sale.

  • B. Cox
    Posted at 07:51h, 06 December

    My question is—WHY are we having to fight our OWN GOVERNMENT??? Have we come to this by EVIL in the hearts of our leaders? What happened to the days when HELPING the citizen was the foundation of every PUBLIC SERVANT?

  • John Q Public
    Posted at 12:59h, 09 December

    As a former member of an area county board, we need to be clear on what is being said here. The data is free to the taxpayers with a FOIA request and many of these counties make the data free on their websites. When it is a company or organization such as SAGE that uses this information in their business to profit from then they should be charged. The taxpayers deserve to collect on this info being shared when it is a business or company that is receiving it for use in their business which results in profit.

    The FOIA needs changed to differentiate between for profit companies and individual taxpayers.

    I work in the computer and software industry so I work with data issues everyday and this article is far from clear regarding the formatting issue. Does the County have to pay their software provider to help them produce this requested information? Many counties use software that is designed for efficient and accurate tax record keeping. Many times this makes it easier to share info with public on the websites and it makes those offices more efficient where they need less employees. These software companies often store this data in ways that are proprietary to their systems. This means that if someone requests the data for the entire county the Assessor may not have that data in a format or type that is legible or can be understood without the software the county uses. In these cases the software companies often charge a fee to export/convert the data to a format that is usable outside their system. So, I would ask if the county has to pay the software company to get a full export that is in a format that can be usable should they not pass that along? It does not seem fair that the taxpayers/county should have to pay that without reimbursement as to provide it free to a company that will potentially profit from the data.

    I am not clear on if this is the issue here or not but there is certainly not enough information in this article to accurately represent the issue.

    This is a complicated topic and yes there is room for correction where some counties have charged and probably should not have but there are many times that it should be charged for and sometimes reasons for charges that many are not even aware of. I do not believe this story does justice to represent the facts and both sides rather to promote a specific agenda.

    The FOIA law in this regard could use some clarification so it protects the taxpayer and citizen but does not let companies and businesses take advantage of this data for profit without the taxpayers getting some form of reimbursement.

    I am as conservative as they come and hate taxes as much or more than anyone out there but I also believe that with Truth and Facts are the way to handle things and with integrity.

    • John Kraft & Kirk Allen
      Posted at 13:23h, 09 December

      It is well known throughout the state they cannot charge excess fees for this data. Multiple court cases, even an appellate case, say as much. Douglas County recently provided the data after being sued and ended up being out to filing fees. If Coles is smart, they would end it as quickly as possible.

      As far as having to export it, the public bodies might think about adding that to their contracts with private companies – that they must assist with public records pursuant to FOIA without charge.

      The final, and most objectional to me, is to change the FOIA law.

  • Cody Heer
    Posted at 13:55h, 09 December

    I don’t agree there should be a distinction between persons and commercial requests. All entities are taxed, in more ways than just money; the cost to comply with reporting laws!

    More power to those entities that might make data more visible. In reality, it should already be accessible; on the internet in this day and age!

    Governments should never buy software; which does not support an easily exportable format! Software cos and purchasers should be well aware of their public data duties!

  • Kelly Jo Rogers
    Posted at 15:00h, 10 December

    I believe they are hiding a huge settlement from me ..My son which is special needs disappeared from Sara Busch Lincoln hospital in 2018 .No will tell me anything not even Police I’m his mother ,and court ordered Guardian .Where’s my son ??? I found him on a missing person sight .But no one will answer me .I’m beyond myself here ..His birth name is Coy Alan Stout DOB 02/13/1988 .I have heard his name was changed please help me .I live at 1612 Moultrie Ave in Mattoon IL 61938 .Call Feds if you have too .

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