MONTICELLO — From $4.77 for the village of Ivesdale to $90,058 for the Monticello school district, real estate tax dollars that date back as far as 1965 may be paid out to 53 Piatt County taxing bodies — if Piatt County Board member Randy Keith has his way.
"I noticed there was over $400,000 in an account, and the money didn't move," said Keith. "So I went and visited with the treasurer, and he said it was money when people paid their taxes in protest and goes back to the '60s."
In those days, protesting taxes meant the dollars could sit in an escrow account and be forgotten. In this case, the dollars date to between 1964 and 1995.
"It was back in the day when you could kind of just come in and write across your check, 'paid under protest,'" he added.
Real estate tax law has changed since that time. Property owners now need to appeal their assessments — not taxes — in October for the next year's tax payments.
"The appeal process is now through a local board of review, and there is a 30-day appeal period every year, and it is usually in October," said Piatt County Supervisor of Assessments Paula Bates. "We have all the decisions by December."
That means tax moneys are distributed yearly, with little or none of it ending up in nearly untouchable escrow accounts. Taxpayers can appeal local decisions to the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board or directly through the court system.
But for the 1964-95 money, Keith has been working for about a year to get $370,234 released. He has organized an effort to get the 53 county taxing bodies — from fire districts to villages, schools to library districts — to approve resolutions asking for the funds. As of last week, 52 had signed on with the last one — Seymour Fire Protection District — promising quick approval.
That won't finish the process, however. When all 53 documents are compiled, action from a circuit court judge would be needed for funds to be released.
"A judge may say no, and all this would be for nothing, but I think we've laid it out really well. When can you say you got all 53 taxing bodies to agree on something?" said Keith.
About $50,000 will be left in the account because it includes some unclaimed estate distributions.
It was too difficult to go back and figure out what the tax rates were when the tax payments were made, so all agreed it would be based on 2012 tax rates.
If approved, here is what some of the taxing bodies would receive:
Piatt County, $55,500; Piatt County Forest Preserve, $3,589; Monticello Township, $2,664; Bement school district, $30,229; Blue Ridge schools, $29,896; DeLand-Weldon schools, $16,169; Cerro Gordo schools, $18,722; village of Bement, $2,368; village of Cerro Gordo, $2,035; city of Monticello, $17,982; Allerton Public Library, $2,710.
The $90,000 for the school district doesn't seem like much in a $14 million budget, but Superintendent Vic Zimmerman said at a May school board meeting that every bit helps.
"For any district, it's money they weren't expecting to get," said Zimmerman.
Steve Hoffman is editor of the Piatt County Journal-Republican, a News-Gazette community newspaper. For more, visit journal-republican.com.