Watchdog: Deal helps Medinah club, could hurt neighbors
A settlement deal that promises backloaded assessment reductions for Medinah Country Club this year through 2016 could lead to higher taxes for neighboring property owners over the next three years.
However, officials who negotiated the deal argue the 17 government agencies that receive property tax revenue from the exclusive golf club potentially saved the same taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in future legal bills by settling.
The deal also allows the taxing bodies to keep all of the property taxes Medinah officials paid in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
The golf course's assessed value this year will be just under $4 million, said Scott Ginsburg, an attorney representing a consortium of six of the taxing bodies feuding with Medinah officials. That's a 33.5 percent drop from the golf course's 2011 assessed value of $6,016,620.
Medinah officials were seeking an assessed value of slightly more than $1.1 million in their complaint saying the club's entire property, instead of just the actual course, should be assessed at the less expensive "open space" tax rate.
Both sides have agreed to hold the course's assessed value at a little more than $4 million in 2015 and 2016, Ginsburg said.
Meanwhile, the mostly residential properties surrounding the golf course are seeing higher assessed values after years of decline. Bloomingdale Township Assessor John Dabrowski said tax bills of neighboring property owners would likely increase since the golf course's value stagnates for three years and tax levies of the government agencies grow.
"Yes, there is the possibility that some of the tax obligations can get picked up then," he said.
Lake Park High School District 108 stood to be the biggest loser if Medinah officials had been successful. The district receives the most in property taxes from the golf course.
Over the past three years, the district has received $370,858 from Medinah. It would have had to rebate about 80 percent of that amount if Medinah officials had gotten their way.
The deal between Medinah and the 17 taxing bodies is expected to be finalized later next month.
But that doesn't end the saga for many other taxing bodies and golf courses.
Several private golf courses throughout the state -- including White Eagle Country Club on the border between Naperville and Aurora as well as North Barrington's Biltmore Country Club -- are fighting property assessments based on an interpretation of the state's "open space" law.
Assessment officials have always applied the open space designation to land that is undeveloped or used for actual golfing. However, lawyers for Onwentsia Golf Club in Lake Forest challenged that application in 2006 and argued the entirety of the property helped conserve the open space.
The state's Property Tax Appeal Board recently released a decision that DuPage County Supervisor of Assessments Craig Dovel described as "splitting the baby."
In essence, the decision allows some buildings to be considered open space if they are used in the "enhancement" of the actual open space. That means equipment sheds, storage facilities and even free-standing restrooms would be considered open space while clubhouses, tennis courts, swimming pools and banquet halls would not.
"I don't think either side would be happy," Dovel said.
Louis Apostol, executive director of the state appeal board, said the agency is trying to set precedent to end the disputes between golf course owners and the affected tax districts.
"Hopefully we can use this as a model for all the other golf courses we're involved with," he said.
Ultimately, Apostol suggested the legislature should "clearly define open space" at golf courses.
Bills to do just that went nowhere during the last legislative session.
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