CHARLESTON -- A judge on Friday dismissed a case that sought a halt to Coles County's reassessment of its commercial and industrial property.
However, Circuit Judge Johnathan Braden based his ruling on what the lawsuit sought as relief and allowed it to be refiled using a different approach.
Mattoon business owners Rex Dukeman and Robb Perry filed the case against the county in October in attempt to stop the project that began in 2015. Dukeman and Perry are two members of a group called the Concerned Tax Payers of Coles County, which is opposing the reassessment.
After Friday's hearing, Perry said the group plans to "keep going forward" and continue to pursue its legal options against the reassessment.
The reassessment opponents case was styled as a "writ of quo warranto," which is used to try to force someone to show the required authority for an action. They filed suit after the Illinois Attorney General's Office and county state's attorney both declined the Concerned Tax Payer's request to take legal action regarding appraiser Bob Becker's hiring to conduct the reassessment.
That request for legal action was based on one of the opposition group's chief contentions, that Becker was hired as an independent contractor and could not handle duties assigned to the county assessment office. Becker was later appointed as a deputy with the assessment office but that took place after the reassessment work was already underway.
On Friday, Braden said his concern came from the possible remedies this type of case allowed, which are ouster from office, fines or both. While Becker's removal was part of what the case sought, it also asked the county be barred from using the new property values from the reassessment, the judge noted.
After granting the county's motion to dismiss the case, Braden also approved a request from attorney Todd Reardon, who represents Dukeman and Perry, to refile it using a different legal approach. Before Braden's ruling, Reardon argued that an improper appointment led to Becker's conducting the reassessment, resulting in what the case was challenging.
In his arguments to Braden, county State's Attorney Jesse Danley also mentioned the limited remedies for the type of case in question. Danley also contended that the lawsuit actually amounted to a tax objection that could be addressed with assessment appeals or in other ways. Braden did not address that part of the motion to dismiss the case.
After granting Reardon's request to refile the case, Braden allowed him a month to prepare it and another month for Danley to file a response. The judge set a case management hearing for June 7.
Dukeman and Perry were also the named plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against the county seeking a stop to the reassessment. A federal appeals court upheld a trial court dismissal of that case based on a jurisdictional issue. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined a request to review the matter.
The reassessment has been a four-year project that, according to the county assessment office, is near completion. The county decided to do the reassessment because commercial and industrial property in the county had not received new values for taxing purposes since 2001.
Public complaints began after business owners in Mattoon Township, the first of the county to be reassessment, received notices of their properties' new values.