Though a taxing district made a mistake that will have taxpayers paying more, the only alternative is to take the district to court.

If they choose, about 10,000 local homeowners can take their park district to court to fight its call for them to pay about 25 percent more in property taxes than they should have to this year.


That’s a costly option, however, and probably the only one short of being taken to court themselves for failing to pay their full Tazewell County tax bills, the county’s treasurer said Friday.


The Fondulac Park District, meanwhile, has no legal choice to correct the overcharge other than to collect the tax and, in effect, pay it back next year through a reduced tax rate after keeping it in an interest-bearing account, said a veteran municipal law attorney.


As for who caused the problem, "We still don’t know," and may never, said park district Executive Director Brad Smith.


An ordinance passed by the Park Board in January that stated a bond debt had been abated, or paid, was not recorded in the Tazewell County Clerk’s Office, though it was signed and presumably sent there by park district business manager Ginny Zinkhon, Smith said.


"It never got filed with us," said County Clerk Christie Webb.


As a result, the district’s property tax rate, established by Webb’s office based on bond indebtedness and general operating revenue needs, jumped 32 percent instead of the estimated 7 percent Smith said the district expected. That wasn’t discovered until the county-issued tax bills were delivered by mail last week.


The park district received 12 calls from taxpayers questioning the steep increase, but none Friday after the Journal Star reported the error, Zinkhon said.


The owner of a home valued at $100,000 will pay about $53 more in park district taxes this year because of the error.


That homeowner can file a formal protest of his tax bill, which would be heard by a circuit court judge, said County Treasurer Duane Gray. "That costs about $100 in court fees," he said.


A partial payment, with the park district overcharge subtracted, will be returned by his office with a request for full payment, he said. If it doesn’t come, the county State’s Attorney’s Office is notified, Gray said. Officials there were unavailable Friday to say what legal problems the homeowner might then face.


The overcharge, amounting to about $600,000, can’t and won’t disappear into the park district’s general operating budget, said Smith, Zinkhon and Dennis Triggs, senior partner of the law firm representing the district.


The district’s solution for returning that money to taxpayers: "I think is not only legal, it has to be that way" by law, Triggs said.


Because it was levied for bond debt relief, the money must be kept in a separate account and used only for that purpose, he said. Zinkhon said she expects to invest it with Main Street Bank in East Peoria in a certificate of deposit that should generate at least 5 percent interest.


Next year, all of the revenue and interest must be used to pay down the district’s current bond debt, Triggs said. Zinkhon said that "by default" will lower the district’s overall property tax rate more than the clerical error raised it this year.


Randy Ray, Peoria’s city attorney, declined to comment specifically on the park district’s plan to return the overcharge through increased bond payments that will lower next year’s tax rate. But, in general, he said, "I certainly find no reason to question" the legality of such a plan.


Smith, meanwhile, said he has no intention to discipline Zinkhon, since it’s unknown why the bond abatement ordinance was not recorded.


Michael Smothers can be reached at (309) 686-3287 or