NORMAL — Two Normal taxing bodies are fighting back against property tax settlements with student apartment owners that guarantee new tax money but end local governments' ability to fight for more.
Normal Public Library's board voted 6-1 Wednesday in opposition to deals with First Site Apartments and Young America Realty, two of the largest landlords for Illinois State University students, negotiated after the property owners challenged assessment hikes that gave them higher tax bills.
Representatives of McLean County Unit 5 and the town of Normal have defended the agreements because they secure additional revenue over the properties' previous assessments and end expensive litigation, but library board members said they're concerned about the precedent the pacts set.
Board member Joel Studebaker told the Normal City Council before it voted on one deal that members shouldn't reward First Site for pursuing "punitive litigation that benefits its owners at the expense of every other resident" — by lowering their share of local property taxes and making others pay more to make of the difference.
"We're looking at it from a revenue perspective ... and we're not looking at the responsibility we have to our constituents," he said. "Even if our disagreement is ultimately symbolic and doesn't matter, we have an obligation to do the right thing."
The practical effect of the board's vote remains unclear because the library wasn't involved in proceedings between Unit 5, which intervened in court on behalf of local taxing bodies, and the property owners. The deals could establish new assessed values for the properties regardless of the library board's vote.
Curt Richardson, a Unit 5 attorney who worked on the deal, said the library is likely to still receive additional money from the settlement because several properties will increase in assessed value, meaning their owners will pay more taxes on them. But the library may lose out on money from several other properties whose taxable values were increased in the deals but whose assessments were not challenged.
The deals are expected to bring taxing bodies about $2.4 million over several years. The library gets about 5 percent of the property taxes generated by the properties.
Terry Lindberg, the only library board member who voted for the settlements, said he wanted to respect the wishes of Unit 5, Heartland Community College and the town — which were more involved in negotiations, already approved the deals and have more property tax revenue at stake in the dispute.
"I rely on all the time, effort and expense Unit 5 put in," he said. "It doesn't mean I'm gonna be in love with (other deals like this) we see in the future."
Normal Township is expected to vote on the deals this month. Board members and Supervisor Sarah Grammer were united in opposition Feb. 22.