BELLEVILLE – St. Clair County Clerk Thomas Holbrook has agreed to stop adding a percentage to line items in district levies which ended up increasing property tax paid by homeowners.
Holbrook had been adding a percentage to line items in levy requests made by municipalities, court documents reveal.
In a court document obtained by the Madison - St. Clair Record, Holbrook "has voluntarily agreed to cease the practice of offering the 'Loss and Cost of Collection' to the taxing districts."
Loss and cost of collection can be added to the levy to cover those homeowners that do not pay the taxes, but the amount has to be revealed publicly.
The Truth in Taxation law in Illinois "requires a taxing district to compare the amount of its proposed aggregate property tax levy to the amount of taxes extended for the district in the prior year.
Belleville resident and one-time candidate for Ward 5 alderman Michael Hagberg filed a lawsuit last year against the county after discovering discrepancies between the city's announced levy and the actual percentage increase.
In December 2015, Belleville set a levy of $9.05 million and in December of 2016 announced it was going to be $9.7 million, Hagberg told the Madison - St. Clair Record in a letter to the editor published in November. "The levy amounts show that the increase was 7.9 percent, yet the city claims only a 4.9 percent increase."
He wrote, "For many, many years the St Clair County Clerk has been increasing specific levy line items by 4 percent above the levy requests. This increase was described as the 'loss and collection' of unpaid property taxes."
Hagberg said that the total increased amount paid by taxpayers in the county was $3.4 million in 2017.
The county clerk's office did not respond to requests for a comment. In an email, the office said, "Mr. Holbrook will be out of the office until Jan. 2, 2018."
Hagberg explained how his noticing the difference between Belleville's announced percentage increase and the actual percentage led him to filing the lawsuit.
"This led me into the entire process of the setting of levy rates and the collecting of money," Hagberg told the Madison - St. Clair Record. "I was able to go back into county records and look at the tax computation reports and noticed the county was collecting more money than the announced levy."
In some jurisdictions, add-ons for loss and collection made sense, Hagberg argued. But Belleville has a collection rate of 99.3 percent, yet close to 4 percent was added to the levy.
Hagberg said he contacted the county clerk's office asking for information on the law that allows for the tax rates to be increase above and beyond the announced levy amount. He was sent a reply referencing a particular statute that applies to bond and interest levies where the taxing body has not levied sufficient funds to cover those amounts.
The former candidate for alderman said he received no further information and therefore decided to sue for a writ of prohibition ordering the county clerk to stop collecting more money than was announced publicly. He represented himself but received some advice from friends with legal experience.
In his court filing, Hagberg said he requested information on what statute "allows for the certified tax rates to be increased above and beyond the actual tax rates."
He asked that "this court to issue a writ of prohibition ordering the County Clerk Thomas Holbrook to cease and desist from certifying and collecting real estate taxes above and beyond the actual tax rates as provided by law."
Following the late June filing, the county clerk's office attempted to have the motion dismissed.
Then, in early October, just ahead of the first court hearing of the case, Hagberg said he was asked to meet officials from the clerk's office.
"I was called in for a private meeting," Hagberg said. "They just wanted to wrap this up, sort it out informally. They gave everything I asked for and there was no open court discussion."
A final court order was issued Oct. 10 after Hagberg agreed to dismiss his motion.
It read, "Whereas Holbrook has voluntarily agreed to cease the practice of offering the 'Loss and Cost of Collection' increase to the taxing districts.
"Whereas Hagberg agrees that Holbrook's action to cease the practice is a satisfactory outcome."
Hagberg said that he did not ask for the taxing districts to return the money. That would just mean an increase in taxes in future years, he added.