Avon Township Assessor Christopher Ditton contends in a federal lawsuit that political retribution by other elected officials is why he's operating with a reduced budget for 2014-15.
Ditton said his desire to maintain the integrity of the assessor's office in advance of a busy summer led him to file the lawsuit in U.S. District Court against township Supervisor Lisa Rusch and the board's four trustees. Avon Township board members approved the new budget last week.
"It's a sad day in Avon Township when it comes to this," Ditton told the Daily Herald on Monday. "I feel the board is more concerned with politics than the people they represent."
Township Attorney Gerald Dietz questioned the accusation of the assessor's funding being trimmed because of politics. He noted Ditton ran on the Avon Action political slate with Rusch and trustees Lisa DeLaMar and Chris Larson in 2013.
"It is an odd lawsuit," Dietz said.
Ditton's attorney, Ed Mullen, filed the suit against Rusch and the trustees May 5. Documents show $227,000 was allotted to the assessor for 2014-15, down from $242,450.
In addition, the suit contends, the Avon Township assessor's budget is down about 30 percent compared to 2009. The office has four full-time employees who keep records, assess property and perform other duties as required by the state.
Ditton was given four options to cut salary expenditures in March, according to the suit. Court papers say all of Ditton's choices would have resulted in no money to pay assessor's office employees Cynthia Brust and Richard Watts.
"This is the real goal of the budget changes in the final budget -- to punish Assessor Ditton, Ms. Brust and Mr. Watts for having exercised their First Amendment rights in supporting Assessor Ditton's election and not supporting the election of a majority of the township board members," the lawsuit contends.
Brust and Watts also are plaintiffs in the complaint against Rusch and the township board. Neither Rusch nor attorney Thomas DiCianni, who is handling the suit for the township, returned messages seeking comment.
Avon Township has more than $1 million in cash reserves and designated $40,000 in "frivolous" spending for new carpeting and windows in the 2014-15 budget, the suit contends. Ditton said the township can afford to direct more money to his office so the four employees can perform essential work.
In part, the lawsuit asks that a judge find the new Avon Township budget violated state law. Lawyers for both sides are scheduled to appear Tuesday before U.S. District Judge John Lee.
Avon Township includes all or part of Grayslake, Hainesville, Third Lake and the Round Lake area.