Board gets bad review

DeWayne Bartels

When Vivian Hagaman began speaking at VOP’s Feb. 24 about Gary Shadid, she knew she was sticking her neck out.

But, Hagaman, a certified property tax specialist who helps people fight their property taxes before the Peoria County Board of Review, was fed up with Shadid.

“He just thinks he is a small god,” Hagaman said of Shadid, who is one of three people appointed to the board of review.

“He looks at the board of review as if he is the seat of power, and has sole control.” 

While most are not as bold in their assessment of Shadid, or the rest of the Peoria County Board of Review, there is a growing number of people who wonder what is going on with the body. Among that number is Peoria County Board vice-chairman Merle Widmer.

Clyde Hendricks, a Peoria attorney, says the board of review, at the very least, has a philosophy that is at odds with its stated purpose.

Others, like Hagaman, say Shadid and the other two members of the board of review are violating state law. Still others who have had dealings with the board of review are afraid to talk on the record. One North Peoria woman who said she had a bad experience with the board of review said she feared retaliation from Shadid if she spoke. 

Hagaman, who works out of the North Peoria offices of Citizens Real Estate, said part of her proof that the board of review is violating state law is the exponential jump in property tax protests going to the Illinois Property Tax Appeals Board in Springfield.

Hagaman said she knew personally of at least 1,500 cases going to Springfield from Peoria County. Prior to this year, Nancy Horton, a board of review member, said the average number of protests going to Springfield was 85 to 100.

None of those numbers can be verified because the state property tax appeals board did not respond to questions posed by phone and fax.

Hagaman said she has protested property tax bills for years before the local board of review. She said she had a good record.

“I had a 95 percent success rate. I’d only take them in if I had a case,” Hagaman said. “This year, my success rate was about 1 percent.”

Hagaman said her success rate fell so dramatically because the board of review has changed its rules for ‘08, and is  not following state law.

“They want to look only at the value of improvements on land, and not the value of the land itself. Let’s say a structure is on the South End. Land value there might be $2 a foot. Whereas, land value on Pioneer Parkway might be $12 a foot. The problem is, they don’t take location into account,” Hagaman said.

“Location has a lot to do with land value.”

Hagaman said the state tax code says the board of review should take land value into account, and value it separately from the improvements on the land.

She said the board of review is not doing that.

Widmer, while not alleging any law breaking, does, like Hagaman, think there are some irregularities. He would like an investigation of the entire process.

Widmer’s tax protest is among those in Springfield right now. His case was not even looked at in Peoria County. That would not have been ethical, Shadid said, because Widmer is one of his bosses.

Widmer said he discussed his assessment rising from $79,460 in ‘07 to $94,960 in ‘08, with Brad Horton, Peoria County recorder of deeds, and husband of board of review member Nancy Horton.

“He said it won’t do me any good to appeal. He said property values in Edgewild had risen,” Widmer said.

“I don’t know on what he based that statement.”

Widmer said his own look at property values around him did not show a dramatic increase. But, last year, the county went through a quadrennial assessment and re-assessed every piece of property, though not every property was visually inspected.

“They’re going to say home prices are not falling, but staying steady in Peoria County,” Widmer said.

“Building is going on in North Peoria, but that should not impact my neighborhood. This is not a new neighborhood. This is an older neighborhood.

A lot of the homes around here are 40 years old. The entire system needs a review in Peoria County.”   

Clyde Hendricks, an attorney who once worked in the offices of the board of review, said a big part of the issue property taxpayers are facing with dramatically rising property values, and little sympathy from the board of review, is the board’s philosophy.

“What we’re concerned about is the board of review is meant to be the civil equivalent of a judge. They are supposed to be disinterested in the outcome of a tax protest,” Hendricks said.

“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 admitted, however, such an allegation is hard to prove and even harder to get county board members to address.

“It’s difficult to address because the board of review is part of a political process.”

The board of review is nominated by the county board chairman and approved by the county board.

“Everyone is basically at the mercy of the board of review’s philosophy. That’s the problem. I have 20 years experience with property tax protests. There was a time when the process wasn’t so contentious. It wasn’t always the county vs. the taxpayer,” Hendricks said.

“I’m not convinced this board of review is working as a disinterested body. Can I prove all this with a smoking gun memo? No, I can’t.”

Widmer said he has twice brought up the need to investigate the board of review’s actions and policies. It has gone nowhere.

Hagaman sighed, and said she does not expect any critical review by the county.

“Who’s going to take the time, energy, money and effort to do this? The county?” she said.      

dbartels@timestoday.com

692-6600 ext. 212