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River Hills officials criticize pair of bills

Proposals would change payments in lieu of taxes, protesting assessments

Jan. 21, 2014

River Hills — Two pieces of proposed state legislation drew opposition from the River Hills Village Board last week.

The first, Assembly Bill 522, drew similar criticism from Brown Deer officials in December. AB-522 aims to divvy up payments in lieu of taxes among the various tax-funded entities in any given area.

Payments in lieu of taxes are usually made from churches, nonprofits or other tax-exempt organizations who receive municipal services but otherwise wouldn't be compelled to pay for them.

Typically, the payments only go to local municipalities, whereas taxes go to a number of entities like counties, school districts and county technical colleges. Under the proposed law the payments would be split up among taxing authorities just as taxes are.

Last year, similar legislation was introduced but did not advance beyond the legislative committee level. AB-522 was introduced in the Assembly in late-November and referred to the state Committee on State and Local Finance.

Village Manager Chris Lear said River Hills receives about $53,000 in payments in lieu of taxes annually.

As was the case in Brown Deer, River Hills officials criticized the proposal because property owners making the payments in lieu of taxes aren't served by the other taxing bodies. For instance, said Village Attorney Bill Dineen, the Lynden Sculpture Garden doesn't send children to area school districts.

"They aren't providing a purpose to these properties anyway," Dineen said. "I don't think this legislation makes any real sense."

Lear said he has already written a letter to state Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, about the potential negative effects of the bill and will write to other legislators. The board was not scheduled to act on the bill last week buy may vote on some form of formal opposition at its next meeting.

The second bill scrutinized by the board, Senate Bill 414, could drastically alter the way property owners are allowed to challenge their property assessments. The proposed bill would allow property owners to submit written statements to challenge their assessments, rather than appear in person, and would, in effect, remove the presumption that a property assessor is correct.

Dineen cautioned that the end result of such legislation could be lawyers building multiyear cases against local boards of review in an effort to force settlements over property assessments. He said the likely candidates for such legal actions would be lawyers representing large commercial or manufacturing property owners.

"It smells like special interest to me," Trustee Wendy Walcott said.

"Our board (of review) is very competent, and we've had good people serving," Village President Bob Brunner said. "I wouldn't want to see that changed in any way."

Lear said he will write to legislators on the board's behalf and that SB-414 could be be a topic of conversation again next month.

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