Bad review unfair, board says

DeWayne Bartels

Nancy Horton’s mouth dropped open, and her eyes grew wide and round.

She had just been told what Peoria attorney Clyde Hendricks said about what he perceives as the philosophy of the Peoria County Board of Review. “The concern I have is that, in too many instances, the board of review members see themselves as county employees and responsible for raising county revenues. That’s not supposed to matter to them by law,” Hendricks said.

Hendricks’ criticism — of the body designed to hear property tax protests — struck a nerve. Horton regained her composure.

“I don’t have a thing to say about that,” Horton said.

Then she added, “That’s not true.”

Across the table from her sat board of review chairman Mike Fortune. He shook his head.

“No, no, no,” Fortune said.

“Our only job is to look at the facts.”

Gary Shadid, the third member of the three-person board, added, “Our concern is to make sure the process is fair.”

The board of review’s members and staff, upon hearing the recent criticism took a harder tone than in the past and said a great deal of the problem is past boards lacked integrity.

Shadid and Colleen Whalen, the office manager for the board of review, assert the current board of review, has integrity, and therein lies the reason for much of the criticism.

Fortune and Horton let Shadid do most of the talking, although Fortune is the chairman, and most experienced member of the board.

“We’re between a rock and a hard place,” Shadid said.

He said there are 86,000 parcels in Peoria County, and that if property owners feel their taxes are too high, their issue is with the taxing bodies they elected, the levies enacted by those taxing bodies or the assessor.

“The board of review becomes a target because we are visible ... The board of review will always be the recipient of this. It’s sort of a kill-the- messenger mentality,” Shadid said.

But, when it came time for the harshest assessment of why the system needed change, Shadid called on Whalen to deliver it.

Shadid asked Whalen to talk about the past procedures of the board.

Whalen said, in the past, with no standardized policies or forms, tax protesters would come into the office and tell the board of review what amount they would stipulate to.

“They would tell the board of review by stipulating to these numbers, we will reduce your workload,” Whalen said.

“When you reform something, those who benefited the most from a lack of integrity shout the loudest.”

She said the new rules in place have restored integrity to the board of review.

Shadid said the board of review just stipulating to what a tax protester says is a fair figure is not fulfilling the board’s mission.

Whalen added, “The professional tax representatives had a comfortable familiarity with the board. This year, it was like they said, ‘I’m going to give you 1,500 cases, but I’ll help you out if you’ll stipulate,’” Whalen said.

That did not happen this year, she said.

“The familiarity is gone,” Whalen said.

“It’s still a friendly process, but not at the cost of our integrity.”

Shadid smiled.

“Some who are here all the time have been put off by the distance we have put in place.”

dbartels@timestoday.com

692-6600 ext. 212