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SPRINGFIELD - People with timberland property could be facing bigger tax bills unless the state takes steps to freeze assessments, a group of Republican lawmakers said Thursday morning.

The Illinois Department of Revenue is calling on county assessors to change the way they tax timberland property, which could boost the cost from as low as $2 an acre to $60 an acre, said state Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville.

"What they are doing right now has scared people to death," said Luechtefeld, who was concerned that this property tax hike would hurt senior citizens on a fixed income.

The Illinois Department of Revenue has argued that some assessors had been using the wrong criteria for setting property values for the wooded areas instead of classifying it as residential property.

Luechtefeld and several other legislators want to freeze property taxes for woodland property at current levels, so the issue can be studied.

"The freeze should be in place to get this plan worked out," said state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon. "If we don't put a stop to it - a lot of people will get hurt, a lot of people that deserve better."

The groups have been meeting with Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the revenue department.

"We are open to some sort of solution - and are in discussions on how to alleviate this," said Rebecca Rausch, an administration spokeswoman.

Others are concerned that the rules will push homeowners to sell land to developers to avoid a higher tax bill.

"If we cut all those down, the erosion will be tremendous into our streams," said State Sen. John O. Jones, R-Mount Vernon.

The legislation is Senate Bill 2166.

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