Coles Co. (ECWd) -
"Coles County under color of state law has violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause in its unlawful, intentional and arbitrary, discriminatory assessments against Plaintiffs for 2016 tax year."
After six months of citizens pleading with the County Board to do the right thing in order to avoid a Federal Lawsuit, the Board ignored their electorate, and the citizens took matters into their own hands, suing Coles County in the Federal District Court for Central District of Illinois.
The verified complaint was filed today at 3:46 pm - Perry v. Coles County 17-CV-2133
The suit implicates Mattoon School District and other taxing authorities as evidence of collusion with other taxing districts was uncovered thorugh Freedom of Information Act requests. E-mail communications with Coles County officials and those taxing bodies show those other taxing bodies involved in meetings with the County pertaining to assessments. The reason this is important is because they have no say in any part of the assessement process. Why they were involved at all appears to be for the purpose of bringing pressure on the County to increase property values as a means of getting more funding through their tax levies.
It appears from the suit, Mattoon School District was in a dire financial condition and this appears to be the primary reason the County ignored the voters and rolled the taxes, which ensured the school district would get their money sooner, rather than later. In June of 2015, the Mattoon School District had to implement a deficit reduction plan:
"In June of 2015, the Mattoon School District had to implement a deficit reduction plan to the Illinois State Board of Education because tax revenues anticipated in fiscal year 2015 were not going to be received until fiscal year 2016"
"However, at the urging of the Mattoon School District and other taxing authorities to complete the Mattoon Township re-assessments in time for 2016 tax year, Coles County for tax year 2016 completed the reassessment for only the Mattoon township which is within the Mattoon School District –leaving the other Coles County townships using the prior assessments from 2015 tax year."
"The fact that the reassessment for 2016 tax year was only completed for Mattoon Township resulted in an unconstitutionally disproportionate amount of taxes paid by Mattoon Township commercial and industrial landowners for 2016 tax year."
According to background information in the complaint, Kelly Kelly Lockhart, Coles County Regional Planning Executive Director played a key role in orchestrating the tax assessments claimed to be done in violation of the 14th Ammendment.
"Coles County Regional Planning Executive Director Kelly Lockhart was a central figure in the planning of the reassessment. Kelly’s involvement cannot be understated as he was involved in several aspects of the process including: organizing and coordinating meetings between the taxing bodies of the county and the Coles County Board; recruiting the assessor Mr. Robert “Bob” Becker to do the reassessment work; IT related issues; purchase of the DEVNET assessment software upgrade; discussions with the Supervisor of Assessments Karen (Childress) Biddle on issues regarding the assessment process; and acting as a liaison for the county board."
Just as voters have been saying for months, the County Chairman and certain board members had little to no interest in fixing this problem. Their focus was clearly on satisfying the taxing bodies, not the voters.
"The County Board Chairman Stan Metzger was not interested in being fair and equitable with the reassessment."
The County Board Chairman was more concerned with appeasing the Mattoon School District than he was with doing what was right for the taxpayers of the county."
"Mr. Metzger wanted the commercial property owners to pay for the county’s mistakes of failing to get the tax bills out on time the past two years and failing to generally assess the commercial properties for over 15 years."
The opening and closing claims in the suit pretty much sum it up.
"Coles County, under color of state law, has violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause in its unlawful, intentional, arbitrary and discriminatory assessment actions against Plaintiffs for tax year 2016."
We urge everyone in Coles County to attend the next Coles County Board meeting and share your thoughts on the County Board's actions on this matter. The meeting is Tuesday, June 13th, 2017 at 7 PM at the Coles County Courthouse.