EXCLUSIVE - Lawsuit over board of review may be in county’s future

DeWayne Bartels
Peoria County Board member Bob Baietto (R-Peoria) is supportive of a group of citizens contemplating a lawsuit against the county concerning the practices of the Peoria County Board of Review.

A lawsuit against Peoria County is being considered by a group of people upset with the practices of the Peoria County Board of Review.

The group may be small and the action they are contemplating large, but they received encouragement from a well-known North Peoria politician — Peoria County Board member Bob Baietto.

‘Frustrated as hell’

Baietto (R-Peoria) told a group of angry property owners in a meeting late Tuesday afternoon he is as angry and frustrated as they are about the board of review.

Baietto said he has been unable to get answers to many of his questions posed to fellow board members and county staff about property tax assessments and the actions of the Peoria County Board of Review.

“I will continue to ask questions. I want you to give me more questions to ask ... I’m frustrated as hell, but I’m not done,” Baietto said.

Baietto said he is angry because it appears to him many county board members are serving political interests instead of the people. Baietto said that is why the group calling itself “Taxpayers for Fair Taxation” is important.

“I will lead a tax revolt in Peoria County. I am not done ... We need more and more people like you,” Baietto said to the group meeting in North Peoria. “I’m not getting any answers.”

The members of the group contemplating the lawsuit said they have received no satisfaction from the board of review and most of the county board about their concerns. They said that assessments are too high and are not based on market values.

Baietto did not stop at offering encouragement if the group decides to sue the county. He also encouraged them to get involved in finding people to challenge current county board members at the ballot box.

“As we look to the future, the board of review members can be removed, but it will not happen with this county board,” Baietto said.

“You need to create a list of people who are qualified to serve on the board of review, both Democrats and Republicans.” 

One member of the group, who requested to be anonymous, said it appears the only way to affect change is a lawsuit.

“What it comes down to is politics,” he said. “I was incredibly naive. I thought we could win this by going through channels and giving them proof. I was wrong. We need to make noise. We need to find more people who are mad.”

The remaining members of the group agreed. A consensus was reached that efforts now need to concentrate on finding an attorney who can advise the group on what grounds they can use to sue.

Frustration abounds

The decision to pursue a lawsuit centers around a failed effort to remove board of review members Gary Shadid and Nancy Horton last month.

The vote came after a group of citizens complained about the board of review’s operation and an unsuccessful attempt by a few county board members to delay the vote that re-appointed Shadid and Horton last month.

At the May 14 Peoria County Board meeting David Etnier, of Dunlap, told the county board he had concerns about the “consistent inconsistencies” with the decisions of the board of review.

After hearing from other citizens with similar views, Baietto made a motion to defer the vote on Shadid and Horton for a month. Board member Merle Widmer (R-Peoria), seconded the motion.

Peoria County assistant state’s attorney William Atkins told the board they could  defer the vote, but that would not force  county board chairman Tom O’Neill (D-Bartonville) to put new names up for consideration. Atkins said if the vote was delayed, Shadid and Horton would remain on the board of review until the vote was taken.

County board member Pat Hidden (D-Bartonville) broke ranks with the rest of the Democrats on the board saying she also favored delaying the vote and looking into the issues within the board of review.

Baietto said, “My big concern is no answers to questions raised ... This is not over. You will see a tax revolution.”

Someone, Baietto said, has to step forward and provide answers about how the board of review operates.

“If we don’t go to bat for these people who will?” Hidden said.

O’Neill listened, but when he addressed the board made it clear it was his choice alone concerning whose names to put before the board.

“There’s not a whole lot going to change. We can put it off a month,” O’Neill said. “But, that doesn’t mean I will bring up any new names.”

O’Neill added, “Put it off a month and it will be the same thing, we will listen to an endless time of speeches.”

The group is also upset about a revelation from the Peoria Times-Observer last month concerning the assessment of commercial property owned by Shadid. It was revealed property purchased by Shadid in 2006 was assessed $87,470 below the purchase price.

A copy of an Illinois Real Estate Transfer Declaration shows Shadid purchased the property at 3810 N. Prospect Road in 2006 for $275,000. The property consists of a building and a parking lot. However, Peoria County property tax records for 2008 for that property state the assessed value is $187,530, a difference of $87,470.

O’Neill said at the time he was not curious about the assessment because, he said, Shadid did not set the assessment.

“There’s a lot of politics involved in this,” O’Neill said. “It’s one of those things ... Both parties are guilty of it.”

Baietto said at the time he found this revelation interesting because he sat in on Peoria County Tax Committee meetings where citizens registered complaints that their assessments are too high and found a deaf ear from the board of review. The board of review is a county board-appointed, three-member panel which serves as an appeal body for property taxpayers who wish to contest the determination of the supervisor of assessments of their property’s value, according to the Peoria County Web site.

 In late April, Baietto listened as Michael Maloof, president of Maloof Realty, said the county board needs to pay attention to the concerns being raised about a board of review that is not responsive to taxpayers.

“There is a growing body of concern,” Maloof said. “There seems to be a disbelief in credibility. So much documentation is set aside. Concern is growing ... The information is credible.”

Brian Monge, an agent with Jim Maloof Realty, also spoke.

“Fairness and market value is what I’m looking for,” Monge said.

Monge said when a home is on the market for months at $100,000 and sells for $80,000, the market determined the home is worth $80,000, not $100,000.

Monge said the board of review members are ignoring the market and setting valuations at whatever they decide.

“I’m puzzled. They don’t have to explain their reasoning until an appeal goes to the state,” Monge said. “How can they know better than the market?”

Forget personalities

Shadid and Horton were the targets of much venom at the meeting yesterday.

However, Baietto told the group not to get caught up in anger at Shadid and Horton.

“Stay away from personalities right now and look at the process,” Baietto said. “I’m convinced there’s something wrong there.”

The group took Baietto’s advice and switched to talk of contacting Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office to see if they can offer any help in a lawsuit or if the office will initiate an investigation.

Yet during the meeting and after frustration about Shadid and Horton continued to spill out.

Etnier at the meeting yesterday said his frustration has only continued to grow with time.

“It bothers me the county board will not serve us,” he said. “Tom O’Neill needs to find new work. He is not serving us.”