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Coles state's attorney says reassessor's additional pay needed authorization

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CHARLESTON -- The person conducting Coles County's reassessment of commercial and industrial property received additional payments for handling appeals at the county and state level.

However, those payments weren't appropriate because they were not "specifically authorized," State's Attorney Brian Bower said.

Bower said his research on the matter found that no additional payments for appeals work should go to Bob Becker, who's conducting the reassessment.

"Any other compensation to Bob Becker not specifically authorized by the county board is inconsistent with the statute," Bower said in a memo he said he'll provide to the board.

He added that he's still researching the issue to determine what, if anything, needs to be done about the payments Becker already received.

So for this year, Becker received just more than $8,600, at a rate of $100 per hour, for the appeals work, county records show. That was in addition to his fee for the reassessment.

Neither the Coles County Board nor any board committee voted on Becker's pay for the appeals work, county board Chairman Stan Metzger said.

That was because the funds were already in the budget for Supervisor of Assessments Karen Biddle's office and were available for spending, he explained.

"We have not knowingly done anything inappropriately," Metzger said, adding that he doesn't think the county should return the payments because Becker "performed the service."

Biddle did talk to the board's Office and Rules Committee, which oversees her office, and the consensus was that the hourly rate for the appeals work was "reasonable," Metzger said.

"We understood there was a need to have the county's opinions of values justified," he said.

Members of the Concerned Tax Payers of Coles County, a group opposing the reassessment project, said Wednesday they did not yet want to comment on the development but planned to make a statement sometime later.

The county officials confirmed what payroll records indicated for Becker, who was paid hourly for the work on the appeals in addition to his contracted fee for the reassessment.

The two payments "were not necessarily for the same reason" and likely wouldn't have continued anyway, Biddle said.

She said she feels Becker won't be needed for appeals work on future parts of the reassessment project.

"I do not have a problem with it," she said of Bower's opinion on the matter. "There will not be any additional compensation."

The additional payments were reflected in county payroll records that showed the difference once Becker's status changed to that of a county employee.

Becker's employment status is one of the main issues raised by the Concerned Tax Payers of Coles County group.

The claim that it was illegal to use a contractor, instead of a county employee, to reassess property is included in pending lawsuits the group has filed against the county.

The county's position, according to Bower, is that's an issue for the courts to decide, and changing Becker's employment status didn't affect that.

The county hired Becker, who works as an appraiser, in 2015 to reassess the county's business property after that classification of property hadn't received new taxing values since a countywide reassessment in 2001.

Becker's fee was $115,000 for the project. It covered four years to reassess one section of the county each year and, as county officials explained, spread out the cost of the work.

Biddle said the appeals work was needed to help justify the county's new property values and called the rate "discounted" compared to typical appraiser fees.

Biddle and Becker both said the appeals work took place during 2016 and last year. The work was to defend the county's positions during county Board of Review appeal hearings and cases that taxpayers took to the Illinois Property Tax Appeals Board, Biddle said.

Becker didn't start receiving the compensation for that service until the first of this year, however.

When he submitted his proposal for the reassessment, Becker said, Biddle asked about possible work on assessment appeals. He said he indicated he was willing to do that work for an additional fee.

Becker said he didn't actually ask for the compensation at first because he thought the amount of time needed for the appeals wouldn't be that significant.

However, it actually "turned into a substantial amount of hours," he said.

"I didn't feel it was fair or appropriate," Becker said.

The county records show two different payments for Becker.

One reflects the set fee for the reassessment, an equal amount now paid every two weeks. That doesn't vary with the amount of time Becker spent on the project during a particular period.

For example, for two weeks in April, the records show that Becker received $1,123.86 for the reassessment work, although there were no hours recorded for the project for that period.

The other shows a varying number of hours for the appeals work and the amounts paid for that.

For the April period, for example, Becker submitted 67 hours for work on the appeals with a payment of $6,700.

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