By Sally Pyne
As messed up as government can be, you’d have to agree that our form of government as about as good as it gets, and when it works—and by design it is intended to work—it works pretty well. I am an elected Trustee for Normal Township, just starting my second year of a four-year term. The four of us trustees are tasked with the responsibility to oversee our tax dollars and ensure that they are being used wisely. I take this very seriously and find myself working hours to prepare for meetings in order to understand all that will be discussed. In addition to being prepared for the meeting, I want to be able to chat with Normal Township taxpayers, my constituents, about the issues faced and brought before the Township Board.
The latest issue we are contemplating is whether to follow the lead of the Town of Normal, Heartland Community College Board & Unit 5 School Board to sign two agreements authored by the attorneys for two student apartment management companies and the in-house attorney for Unit 5 which, in my opinion, undermines our assessment process and determination. The student apartment developers are prepared to litigate in to eternity –and they have the millions of dollars to do just that–so you really can’t blame the school district for agreeing to settle based on the possibility of spending money in courtrooms rather than classrooms.
Our Assessor, who was elected to estimate the value of property, is one of the best—if not the best—in the state. His record for accurate assessment is monitored and has been recognized and been awarded bonuses for ALWAYS being in range—this in a career of almost 30 years. He is no stranger to questions and re-negotiations based on appeals. But the tactics being used in this latest debate are unprecedented. It is very hard for me to believe, as was stated by their attorney at our Township meeting, that the student housing developer was “surprised” when they saw such a high assessment on their recent luxury student apartments. You’ve seen them—on Willow Street—they have theatre rooms, high-end finishings, en suite bedrooms, recreation common areas, a swimming pool—kind of like how you live, right? They don’t rent for cheap, but some students (and their wealthy parents) expect to live like this while in college. Times sure have changed—haven’t they?
No one wants to pay more taxes. I do appreciate the services our taxes support. But one thing we all want to assume is that we are ALL paying our “fair share,” and while negotiating outside of the checks and balances of elected processes wreaks as illegal, we are assured it is not, I would contend that it is at minimum unethical. It gives an unfair advantage to the larger property owners that can afford to manipulate the process and undermines our very government.
We won’t vote on this issue until our April meeting, but I’m hoping the “teaser” I’ve provided here will at least “put this on your radar” and have us all looking at what is happening. Our participatory government relies on all of us.
Dr. Sally Pyne is a lifelong resident of Normal. She is a retired educator and served both Illinois State University and Lincoln College Normal. Her husband Ed owns the Normalite newspaper as well as seven other weeklies in McLean County.
The opinions expressed within WJBC’s Voices are solely those of the Voices’ author, and are not necessarily those of WJBC or Cumulus Media, Inc.