Coles reassessment opponent renews attack on appraiser's employment status

Coles reassessment opponent renews attack on appraiser's employment status

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CHARLESTON -- With claims that the appraiser handling Coles County's reassessment project has been paid two different ways, an opponent of the project renewed his questions of the appraiser's employment Tuesday.

During the Coles County Board's meeting, James DiNaso said he obtained county records that showed that, starting in January, appraiser Bob Becker was paid as a county employee.

Previously, records showed that Becker submitted invoices for payment for his work on reassessing the county's commercial and industrial property and was paid as a contractor, DiNaso stated.

He argued the change supported the contention by the opposition group, the Concerned Taxpayers of Coles County, that the county's hiring of Becker wasn't legal.

"The county is trying to show he is an employee," DiNaso said. "There's no way you can deny he's a contractor. I think it's misleading."

The matter has been a central issue of the ongoing dispute between the group and the county and is also a main contention in lawsuits the group has filed.

The court cases also contend that that the time since the last reassessment, 2001, and not applying new property values throughout the county at the same time aren't fair to taxpayers.

The Concerned Taxpayers' position on Becker's employment is that state law requires the county assessment office, not an independent contractor, to do the reassessment.

On Tuesday, one county official confirmed that the documents to which DiNaso referred were accurate but another repeated the position that the issue is ultimately up for a court to decide.

County Treasurer George Edwards attended the meeting and, when asked later about the issue, confirmed that DiNaso's information was correct.

He said in January he received a request from county Supervisor of Assessments Karen Biddle to change Becker's payment method to that of a county employee. Edwards said he did so after he referred it to State's Attorney Brian Bower for his legal review.

Bower, who also attended the meeting, repeated his previously stated position. He said the issue of Becker's employment is "a question of law" and up to the courts to decide.

He said there are likely several factors that will determine if Becker is a county employee. But if there's "a suggestion" that he is, it's more logical to pay him that way, Bower explained.

Also during Tuesday's meeting, Concerned Taxpayers member Robb Perry criticized the board for moves such as hiring earlier assessment supervisors who failed to keep the commercial and industrial assessments up to date.

"The record doesn't show me that you know what you're doing," he said. "I don't think you understand the taxing process at all."

Also, Perry and DiNaso both called on board member Paul Daily to pay attention to their comments. During the public comment period of the meeting, Daily appeared to be doing work on a tablet computer, which DiNaso claimed showed "arrogance."

Asked to respond after the meeting, Daily said the reassessment opponents "say the same thing" at every board meeting, and added that "I can hear Mr. DiNaso very well."

Contact Dave Fopay at 217-238-6858. Follow him on Twitter: @FopayDave.


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