Assessor Ditton Wins Budget Battle Without Even Showing Up!
With a not-too-distant lawsuit settlement in mind, along with the current lawsuit by Assessor Chris Ditton, it was a forgone conclusion that the Avon Township Board would end up approving the 2015-2016 budget which carries with it a $98,000 deficit. Every department except the assessors office cut last years spending to the bare bones and had plans to live within their means again this year. You may recall reading that half way through the last fiscal year that Assessor Ditton posted a note on his “closed” office door directing residents to Waukegan for assistance. With this year being the quadrennial year in which all properties must be visited and assessments updated, Ditton’s budget request included salaries and benefits for additional full time employee(s) to “operate efficiently” (in his words). You may recall that while he was an Avon Township Trustee under Sam Yingling’s leadership, the Board voted to reduce the tax levy for future years, thus reducing revenue to the Township and Assessor.
You may also recall the $450,000 settlement that the Township agreed to in order to settle a federal lawsuit that claimed some (previous) assessor’s office employees were fired or pressured to retire. That settlement undoubtedly had plenty to do with the current insurance carrier’s policy doubling the Township’s deductible. Only one insurance company was even willing to submit a proposal to the Township out of at least a half dozen.
There were a number of unhappy taxpayers in the audience who demanded to know why Assessor Ditton was not at the hearing to answer their concerns. One of Ditton’s attorney’s, Jacob Meister, said that he was at an out-of-the-area continuing education class to renew his certification and that he was available via phone. With that, Supervisor Lisa Rusch got Ditton on the phone. But before he began to answer any questions his attorney took the phone out into the hallway to talk to him first. It may be a bit difficult to hear his answers since we all had to listen to them via the phone’s small speaker at the front of the room. His attorney told me during a discussion we had after the meeting that “they are all out to get him“, mentioning a few names. During the past few weeks Ditton made several adjustments to his budget on suggestions from the Board, one being to hire two part time employees rather than one full time. That made some minor reductions in paid benefits but made no substantial reductions overall. In reality, two part timers logging in 30 hours each could exceed a 40 hour salaried employee making you wonder if there will really be any savings in the end.
During the two hour long dog and pony show that was meant to convince those in attendance that what the Board was about to vote on was in everyone’s best interest (and to move beyond the budget issues), the Board finally voted on the new budget. Here’s how they voted:
Trustee Cathy deGroh: A firm NAY vote
Trustee Lisa DeLaMar: A firm AYE vote
Trustee Bill McNeill: An AYE vote with reservations
Trustee Chris Larson: An AYE vote with similar reservations
At this time Trustee DeLaMar asked to modify her firm AYE vote and also added “with reservations”.
With enough votes to pass the budget it was easy for Supervisor Lisa Rusch to grab a political safety net and vote NAY, saying that she could not, in good conscience, vote in favor and still be able to sleep at night.
Menu of the 2-hour video below starting with the Special Budget Hearing:
Public participation starts: 1:10
Ditton’s attorney talks about Ditton’s whereabouts: 17:20
Supervisor Rusch calls Ditton on cell phone: 18:55
Ditton’s attorney leaves room with cell phone: 19:43
Video paused: 20:16
Video restarted: 20:17 with attorney still out of the room
Attorney returns with cell phone and questions directed at Ditton continue: 21:47
Cell phone call with Ditton ends: 31:05
Video paused while a screen is setup for PowerPoint presentation: 32:08
Questions and answers continue during PowerPoint presentation by Trustee Larson: 32:09
General Overview showing $98,000 deficit: 1:06:04
PowerPoint presentation ends: 1:19:40
Questions continue: 1:19:45
Ditton’s attorney responds to question regarding tax appeals: 1:20:28
Questions, answers, final comments by Trustees continue
Special Budget Hearing ends: 1:52:28
Video paused for six minute break
Special meeting begins: 1:52:29
Budget deficit passes by a 3/2 margin: 1:57:15
For those who have read this far, here is a little tidbit mentioned to me by Ditton’s attorney during our short conversation after the meeting ended. All of this could have been avoided if the current Board had acted two years after the previous (Yingling) board passed the tax levy reduction and reversed the situation. Several of the Trustees as well as the Supervisor didn’t deny this as they were locking up the doors for the night, merely saying that “they didn’t know about it until just two weeks ago”. Who brought it to their attention I don’t know nor do I know if any of the attorneys involved knew about it until the Ditton lawsuit started playing out in the Courts.
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