High property taxes spur legal battle from Mattoon business owners

High property taxes spur legal battle from Mattoon business owners

Business owners in one Illinois community are using the law to fight back against high property tax bills. Their lawsuit claimed property taxes spiked on commercial properties from 2015 to 2016, but only in their town.

Business owners in Mattoon, Illinois, are fighting a legal battle against their county, claiming their properties were assessed unfairly to bring in more tax dollars.

In most Illinois counties, property is assessed every four years. Property taxes are then paid based on the property’s assessed value. Mattoon Township businesses alleged in a recently dismissed lawsuit that Coles County raised the assessed property value in order to collect more in property taxes.

In addition, the lawsuit claimed Mattoon Township was the only community in Coles County to be reassessed, while commercial and industrial properties in Lafayette Township, North Okaw Township and Paradise Township were not. According to the plaintiffs, assessed values on all commercial properties in Mattoon rose 25 percent from 2015 to 2016, to $53.5 million from $42.8 million. The assessed value of industrial properties in Mattoon rose by 21 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to the amended complaint.

Because their commercial and industrial properties were the only ones to be reassessed, the plaintiffs claimed, Mattoon Township business owners contributed 97 percent of the additional $956,000 in tax revenue collected for 2016.

The lawsuit also stated that the county failed to assess properties for more than 15 years, instead using values from the prior year for each assessment. However, once the decision was made to reassess, someone was hired who admitted he “had no experience conducting mass appraisals of commercial and industrial properties,” according to the lawsuit.

The idea to file a class-action lawsuit came to Robb Perry and Rex Dukeman, who both own businesses in Mattoon, after the notices of reassessment came in December 2016. They then started attending county board meetings and asking members why their assessments were so high, according to Dukeman.

In June 2017 they filed the class-action lawsuit on behalf of themselves and other Mattoon Township commercial and industrial property owners similarly situated, according to the complaint.

In December 2017, the federal district court dismissed their lawsuit, noting that this was a matter for a state court.

However, Perry and Dukeman filed a notice of appeal with the federal district court in December 2017, indicating plaintiffs were appealing the dismissal of their case to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. They are hoping to hear back within the next 30 to 45 days, Dukeman said.

Dukeman plans to run for a position on the Coles County Board. The primary will be held March 20.

“There’s several people on the board at the present time who have sat back and not stood up and done what’s right for the people here in Coles County,” Dukeman said. “We are not going to give up. We’re going to continue to fight for what’s right.

“If we don’t stand up now we must all kiss the state goodbye because it’s not going to get better.”

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