NORMAL — Normal is the latest taxing body to sign off on a property tax settlement for 26 student apartment buildings near Illinois State University.
On Monday night, the Normal City Council unanimously approved a deal that ends a three-year dispute with local landlords, including First Site, over the assessments of their apartments — saving municipal legal costs and bringing taxing bodies a combined $1.4 million over its life.
McLean County Unit 5 and Heartland Community College negotiated the settlement, and Unit 5's school board already approved it. Unit 5 gets 58 percent of property taxes from the sites; Normal, 11 percent; McLean County, 11 percent; Heartland, 8 percent; and five bodies split the other 12 percent.
"I'm inclined to take your lead as the lion's share," said council member Kevin McCarthy to Unit 5 attorney Curt Richardson, who addressed the council.
The settlement freezes the sites' value for property tax purposes from 2015 to 2022, giving both the taxing bodies and the owners certainty about those payments, but possibly costing the taxing bodies additional revenue they would have received if the increased assessments had held up to review by the state's Property Tax Appeal Board.
"Every year is potentially a new case for every single property," Richardson said of the challenge in fighting for the increased assessments. "It can take several years to get a decision back."
Bob Kahman, the county's supervisor of assessments, said he finds the deal troubling as a precedent, and resident Joel Studebaker agreed during Monday's public comment period.
"First Site has amassed enough wealth that they can afford punitive litigation that benefits its owners at the expense of every other resident in Normal," Studebaker said. "What comes next? If we cannot afford to win this battle, what other battles can we only afford to lose?"