CHARLESTON -- Contentions over Coles County's approach of reassessing commercial and industrial property for taxing purposes is now the subject of a lawsuit.

The lawsuit filed Friday in federal court argues that the county's method is unconstitutional because it places a "disproportionate tax" on business owners in Mattoon Township, the first part of the county that was subject to the reassessment.

The suit also repeats some of what those opposed to the reassessment have said during Coles County Board meetings for the last six months, including that the county didn't have the legal authority to hire an independent appraiser to conduct the reassessment.

Mattoon business owners Robb Perry and Rex Dukeman are listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. However, the case claims more than 500 property owners are affected and asks that it be given class action status.

Perry, one of the members of the opposition group called Concerned Taxpayers of Coles County, said he regrets that the matter had to go to court. But the group felt it had no choice because county officials wouldn't halt the reassessment project.

"They forced us into this," Perry said when contacted Monday. "We're doing what they caused us to do."

Also contacted Monday, Coles County Board Chairman Stan Metzger said he didn't want to comment on a pending legal proceeding.

Metzger referred other questions to State's Attorney Brian Bower, who also said he couldn't comment on the lawsuit.

The county began reassessing commercial and industrial property last year because those classes of property hadn't been assigned new values for taxing purposes since a complete, countywide reassessment in 2001.

There's been no definitive explanation of why the business property wasn't reassessed for 15 years.

The project apparently started and stopped when previous county Supervisors of Assessment were in office and began again when current Supervisor Karen Biddle took the position in 2015.

The reassessment plan divided the county into four sections with one section reassessed each year, which county officials said was to spread out the cost.

Property in Mattoon Township was reassessed first and the questions and complaints began after the township's business owners received notices of their new property values late last year.

That method led to one of the lawsuit's contentions, that it resulted in tax increases for Mattoon Township businesses while not affecting the rest of the county, which the suit claims is a violation of the constitution's equal protection clause.

The suit also claims the hiring of independent appraiser Bob Becker to do the reassessment was illegal because such work had to be performed by an employee of the county Supervisor of Assessment's Office.

Previously, county officials have said the Illinois Department of Revenue indicated doing the work in phases was allowed and the county went through the proper procedures with the department to do it that way.

The lawsuit seeks court orders halting the reassessment project and a refund of nearly $930,000 in what it says were additional property taxes paid this year because of the new values.

Erick Kaardal, a Minnesota attorney who's said much of his work addresses legal issues with governments, filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Urbana.

Federal court records don't show any indication of the county yet receiving formal notice of the filing and hearings won't be scheduled until after that takes place.

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