Blunder leaves tax sale invalid, $4.2 Million hangs in the balance -

Blunder leaves tax sale invalid, $4.2 Million hangs in the balance

MADISON COUNTY, Ill. (KMOV) -- Madison County taxpayers are on the hook for millions of dollars thanks to a simple error.  Republican Treasurer Kurt Prenzler and Democrat State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons are pointing the finger at each other.  Regardless who’s to blame, $4.2 Million the county collected in a February tax sale is now invalid.

Before a property tax auction can happen, a judge must sign off on the list of properties. In the past, the treasurer went before the judge and got that judgment.  In his first year as treasurer in 2011, Kurt Prenzler’s office did just that.  But he later determined it was inappropriate for anyone from his office to go before a judge.  So this year no one from his office got the judgment before the auction.  And no one from the State’s Attorney’s Office did either.

State’s Attorney Thomas Gibbons says his office was never notified of the change in policy. 

“No such conversation ever took place,” Gibbons said.  “No request was made.  If a request had been made to my office, of course we would have responded immediately.”

News 4 asked Prenzler multiple times if he notified the State’s Attorney’s Office that he was changing the policy.  He never answered directly. 

“We worked with the State’s Attorney’s Office on a number of different things,” Prenzler said.  “And I have to rely on the State’s Attorney’s Office that they are representing my employees as they do things like that.”

Prenzler says this is all a political attack by Gibbons. He says it’s being blown out of proportion, calling it a “tempest in a teapot.”  He also says there’s an easy fix.

“In the Illinois statutes, it provides for a court order to correct an error in a tax sale,” Prenzler said.  He added that he’s not an attorney, but that’s how he understands the law.

Gibbons says in his research with the Illinois Attorney General’s office, they have determined this has never happened before in the state.  He has requested a recommendation from the Attorney General, but he says neither option is good.

“One option is to ask a judge to enter an order validating the tax sale,” Gibbons said.  “But in order to make it legal you have to involve all interested parties, which means 2700 property owners, tax buyers. That’s a lot of people.  And that’s a big lawsuit.  The other possible solution is invalidating the tax sale, finding it in error, and performing another tax sale.”

It’s unclear what would happen in either scenario.  The $4.2 Million from the tax sale goes to fund schools and other county projects.  News 4 asked if that money will have to be returned.

“That’s the most serious issue here,” Gibbons said.  “The taxpayers are going to have to suffer the burden for this.”

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