RANTOUL — Champaign County Clerk Aaron Ammons says he will continue to return to Rantoul City Schools board meetings until he receives a public apology from Superintendent Michelle Ramage about comments she made about him in May.
Ammons asked for the apology at last week’s school board meeting. Ramage did not comment.
The county clerk said Ramage made “grossly false” comments about him and his office regarding whether Rantoul’s Tax Increment Financing District 1 would come off the tax rolls this year or next year. Because Rantoul City Schools and Rantoul Township High officials thought it wouldn’t come off until next year, they did not levy for the additional money.
The two districts lost the opportunity to levy against nearly $700,000 in equalized assessed value. They will not be able to levy for that amount in years to come, either.
Ammons said it is neither his nor his office’s responsibility to oversee such matters. But officials from both districts said the county clerk’s office had provided such information in the past.
The state’s attorney’s office advised Ammons that he should “in no way advise, guide or track TIFs for any district,” he said. “My office was being blamed for not doing a job we’re not responsible for doing.”
Ammons said a joint review board meeting is held annually, during which both school districts are supposed to be informed of tax developments and TIF matters.
In May, Ramage said, “We were absolutely shocked to see the county clerk’s office removed the TIF.” But Ammons said the districts should have known the TIF was being removed because Mayor Chuck Smith was quoted in a Rantoul Press article indicating the village was ending it. The 23-year-old TIF district was ended in May 2019.
“It is incumbent upon a school board or park district financial officer to watch very closely those TIFs,” said Ammons, who noted that RCS finance manager Kendra Good had spoken to Sasha Green, the county’s former lead tax-exemption specialist, who indicated that the TIF would come off the books in 2020.
“So RCS had plenty of information it would be coming off,” he said.
Tax increment financing is a method used as a subsidy for redevelopment, infrastructure and other community-improvement projects to stimulate private investment in an area designated as blighted and in need of economic revitalization.
Additional property tax generated within that district is placed in a fund for development and is generally lost by the taxing districts. But to offset the lost tax revenue, the village had paid both school districts an annual stipend. In RCS’ case, the total was to $310,000, which it will no longer get.
In May, Ramage said Ammons incorrectly indicated that property in the TIF district, which was located on the former Chanute Air Force Base, would be added to the tax rolls in 2021, not 2020. She said every year for the past 15 years, the county clerk’s office has supplied estimated equalized-assessed-valuation totals in the fall and actual figures in the spring. She said in this case, there was no indication the TIF district would be added to the list of taxable property in fall or in the final list sent April 9, meaning RCS would not have to worry about levying against it.
Ammons said TIFs are typically controlled by municipal governments, “and the law did not change when the Black man became county clerk.”
“Ms. Ramage’s statement about leadership changing signals to me that Ms. Ramage and Ms. Good are not aware how the tax cycle works,” he said, adding that on June 12, Good asked his staff when the next disbursement of tax revenue would be sent to RCS. He informed her that all disbursement questions should to be directed to the county treasurer’s office and said his office has nothing to do with that.
Ammons said a claim that RTHS Superintendent Scott Amerio had asked him about the TIF district during an October 2019 meeting is “just plain false.” He said he asked everyone at the meeting, which included the former lead tax-extension specialist, county assessor, his chief of staff “and both of our tax extension specialists” if the question had been asked, and none of them remembered it.
“Superintendent Ramage felt comfortable blaming me for a $700,000 error without any legal responsibility, without any evidence that any false information was shared with you and without the courtesy of a phone call,” Ammons said. “Is that the type of behavior you want modeled for staff and students?”
Ammons cited an email exchange between Amerio, Ramage and him indicating the superintendents had no interest in speaking with television stations about the matter after a story appeared in the Rantoul Press. He said not speaking with the media would only work if he agreed not to, as well.
“The two people at the highest level of the public schools of Rantoul conspiring to keep information from the press about their mishandling of $700,000 of taxpayer money — now why is that?” Ammons said.
He asked that Ramage apologize and a correction of the public record be made. He also cited board member Joan Fitzgarrald’s comment that information coming from the county clerk’s office can’t be trusted.
“I don’t know of any information that Ms. Fitzgarrald has sought from our office,” Ammons said.
RCS board President Bill Sweat assured Ammons that none of the comments were racially motivated.
“I don’t know how you can make that assertion when you had nothing to do with it,” Ammons said, noting it was Ramage who made the statement. “She didn’t even make a phone call. She simply took the word of two employees who are under fire.”