Allen County officials have settled a long-running tax dispute with one of the area's largest retailers and are working to resolve a similar battle with one of the county's largest industries.
In a deal that ends an 11-year standoff between the County Assessor's office and the Illinois-based owners of Glenbrook Square, Allen County will return about $2.4 million to General Growth Properties. In return, the county will keep nearly 90 percent of the $23 million in property taxes it has collected since General Growth first appealed the mall's assessed value in 2002.
The county currently assesses Glenbrook's value – not including the Penney's, Sears and Macy's stores – at about $155.1 million. As recently as 2008, General Growth was insisting the mall's taxable value was $65 million.
“This has been the longest appeal in history, and it has been on the minds of taxpayers,” County Assessor Stacey O'Day said. “I'm happy with the settlement . . . While confident that we could have prevailed in litigation, the risk of an adverse judgment to schools and other governmental entities, along with the litigation costs, led s to conclude this was the prudent course.” The settlement allows the county to keep about $20.3 million that has already been distributed to local governments.
O'Day said the settlement does not prevent General Growth from appealing the county's assessment in the future, however. General Growth pays about $4.5 million in annual property taxes, making it among the county's largest taxpayers.
General Growth had claimed in part that the county's assessments were too high when compared to the value of similar malls in other parts of the state.
Allen County government will refund the total amount owed to General Growth but recover all but its share by withholding future tax distributions to other governmental entities that received the disputed property taxes, according to County Auditor Tera Klutz.
In a similar case, General Motors has long challenged the county's assessment of its truck plant on Lafayette Center Road near Interstate 69. GM, which in 2006 placed the taxable value of the property at $48 million, last year claimed the plant is worth just $35 million despite the fact that the value of construction permits there totaled more than $276 million between 1985 and 2012.
In 2009 the county agreed to reduce the plant's assessed value by 25 percent, from $101 million in 2007 to $75.6 million. As of last year, the plant was assessed at about $74.9 million and paid about $1.3 million in property taxes in 2011. The taxes would have been higher if not for several abatements granted by county officials over the years, which temporarily reduce the taxes owed on new buildings and equipment.
The County Commissioners on Friday approved O'Day's $162,500 request to conduct an appraisal of the plant's value. That appraisal could bolster the county's position in court if mediation fails to produce a settlement similar to the deal with General Growth, O'Day said.