County confirms credit to come next year; Mayor says waiting a year is ‘gonna be a mess’

GIBSON CITY, Ill. (WCIA) — Inflated tax bills for 1,800 Gibson City businesses or homeowners will be remedied but not until next year.

Taxpayers were surprised to learn late last week that the incorrect and unexpected strain on their wallets won’t be fixed until next year after they were hit in August with property tax bills that were 40-60% too high, costing hundreds to thousands of dollars more than they owe.

They’ve already had to pay the first installment which was due in September. Now they’re learning they have to pay more before they get paid back.

The hope from city officials was that the county could re-issue bills with a credit before the second payment comes due on Nov. 18. Then, on Thursday, Ford County treasurer Krisha Whitcomb announced that credit wouldn’t come until next year’s tax statements hit the mail. Overpayments will be deducted from the 2023 tax bills, according to Whitcomb.

The error occurred at the Ford County Clerk & Recorder’s office, and it wasn’t caught by a city administrative staff member before the recorder finalized the year’s tax levies, and sent them off to the county treasurer who then put them in the mail.

“We noticed the increase right away,” Shepherd’s Closet volunteer and board president Susie Oyer said.

Susie Oyer also lives in city limits, so she’s seen two inflated tax bills between her home and the non-profit.

“I think ours at home went up about $600,” she said.

“So it’s just piled on top of higher groceries, higher gas losses in our 401Ks, and when you’re in retirement, which I am, unfortunately, then you know, it all impacts your life,” Oyer said.

Shepherd’s Closet shouldn’t owe property taxes in the first place, according to store manager Annie Barnett.

“We have two stores, one was already exempt, but the second one wasn’t, which Susie learned about when she became our temporary treasurer. And so she’s been working on trying to get that approved,” Barnett explained.

“But because of this, all of this stuff going on with the property taxes, that has caused a delay in the approval process for our exemption.”

Barnett and Oyer weren’t the only ones in town unhappy to hear they won’t get their money back for a year.

“We could have solved this sooner than later,” said Mayor Dan Dickey in his second sit-down with WCIA in a week.

By sooner, the mayor meant before taxpayers owe the second and final payment installment in November.

Mayor Dickey posted on Facebook when he first discovered the incorrect bills on August 22 from a phone call with a Gibson City homeowner.

By August 24, the city clerk emailed Ford County clerk & recorder Amy Frederick to set up a meeting to discuss a resolution. Frederick, a day later responded, “I think it’s best if I wait,” apparently for a later meeting with attorneys, according to the emails WCIA obtained.

Although the error originated in the clerk’s office, the county treasurer has the unilateral ability to re-issue bills with a credit and the sole authority to decide when that happens.

“I’d say we were very disappointed in the solution that the treasurer chose,” Dickey said following Whitcomb’s announcement.

Tax statements were months behind schedule, to begin with. It’s for that reason, Whitcomb said in a statement Thursday, and the time and money it would cost to fix them this year, it’s being pushed back until next year.

“We offered people with bodies to help to stuff envelopes, put stamps on envelopes, whatever it would take,” Dickey said in response. “We offered to pay for half the bill.”

The mayor reiterated his belief that three months would have been enough time to fix the issue. The treasurer says it would’ve stalled important operations for other cities in the county.

Either way, waiting a year creates complications of its own.

“There’s gonna be a lot of unknowns. A lot of things are going to change. People are gonna sell houses, they’re gonna buy houses or there are escrow accounts,” Dickey listed.

“I think it’s gonna be a mess if we wait a year.”

Whitcomb declined to comment further, including multiple interview requests.