(KMOV) -- Guy Janic showed me the bill. It was hard to believe. Three months ago, his Marion County, Illinois "Change of Assessment" showed his property taxes were going up nearly 8,000%. Although Janic has listed his two acres of land for less than $30,000 and has no buyers, the County insists it's worth $116,000.
"I just about had a heart attack," Janic told me as he started to cry. "I don't have the money. I mean what are you going to do?"
Janic's annual property taxes jumped about $2,700. He appealed to the Marion County Board of Review, but the panel didn't help him much, reducing his taxes by about $100 a year.
Some business owners showed us documents revealing that their assessments were going up 200-300%. The dramatic one year increases sparked a petition drive that collected more than 500 signatures. The petition asks the county to throw out the assessments and try to come up with values that are more "reasonable." They have little recourse, except an appeal to the Board of Review. Janic is appealing the Board's decision to a state appeals panel.
Patty Brough, the Chief County Assessment Officer, declined to be interviewed on camera. During an off-camera conversation she told me that many property owners were significantly "under-taxed" for many years, and that it was simply time for them to pay their fair share. I saw property tax records showing that buildings on three parcels of land owned by oil companies had a market value of 0. Brough says she got the market value raised to about $5 million. Brough insisted that overall the county has not seen dramatic hikes, but she admitted that some property owners got much larger increases.
Of course, these dramatic hikes strongly suggest that Brough is right about many businesses and homeowners not paying enough in property taxes for many years. It's clear to me that the county has cut some property owners breaks for a long time, and that the county, towns and school districts that depend on property taxes were shortchanged. Perhaps it was self-preservation by some Assessors, including part-time township Assessors, who are elected to their positions. If you raise property taxes, what's your campaign slogan, "Vote for me, I jacked up your taxes?"
There's no question that Guy Janic was under-taxed for years. It's unclear exactly why he is paying so much now. The city of Centralia owns the long term lease on the property, but Janic pays the taxes. Last year, the taxes on the rundown structures (a shed and deck) went up six-fold. The assessed value of the land was 0 in 2009. This year, it went up to $35,800. In previous years Janic paid only $40 bucks a year in property taxes, but even though it looks like he and many others should have been assessed more, a one year hike of 8,000% still seems crazy to me.
In Guy Janic's case it was enough to make a grown man cry.