Businesses at College of DuPage targeted for back property taxes
A bank at College of DuPage should have been paying property taxes for the past two years, says the Milton Township assessor, who is trying to determine if more businesses on the school's Glen Ellyn campus -- including the controversial college-run restaurant and adjoining hotel -- should be on the tax rolls.
Assessor Chris LeVan says the full-service U.S. Bank branch on the COD campus should have been paying property taxes since it opened in 2013. He said he's taken steps to ensure the business pays property taxes going forward.
Even though COD's campus is tax-exempt, LeVan said any businesses with leases to operate on the campus must pay property taxes. How much property taxes they pay is based on their lease amount.
"It's no different from a farmer farming government land," LeVan said. "He is assessed."
LeVan said research done by a downstate group called the Edgar County Watchdogs found there was a lease agreement between U.S. Bank and the college. So the assessors office is going to issue a "certificate of error" on the bank and have the business taxed for 2014. The amount owed won't be determined until the property is assessed.
U.S. Bank officials said they have never been asked to pay property taxes.
"We have not been presented with a reimbursement request or a tax assessment for the branch that has been open for approximately two years," said Dana Ripley, a bank spokesman. "If we are presented with a reimbursement request or a lawful tax assessment, we will comply with it and pay the appropriate tax on our 333-square-foot branch."
When asked why Milton Township never assessed the bank before, LeVan said it's the college's responsibility to notify the supervisor of assessments about businesses that have leases with the school.
"They have to inform the supervisor of assessments exactly what is going on so the proper assessments can be made," he said.
COD hasn't been contacted by LeVan about tax exemptions, Senior Vice President of Administration Tom Glaser said in a statement.
"We have received no communication from the assessor regarding this issue. Each year, we provide the assessor with a document detailing our total exempt property. We are not made aware of what private management companies provide to the assessor," Glaser said.
Meanwhile, LeVan said his office is investigating whether any of the other businesses on the campus should be paying property taxes.
The list of businesses that are being reviewed include a Subway, Starbucks, Chick-fil-A and even Waterleaf, the upscale college-run restaurant.
"It's a nice little food court in there," LeVan said. "So we're trying to get to the bottom of it."
"If the assessor has questions about whether Waterleaf or other properties align with our educational mission, we are more than happy to consult with our tax counsel," Glaser said in his statement. "But to date, we've not been asked to provide that."
The college has come under fire in recent months for a variety of spending and administrative decisions, including the operations of the restaurant and hotel. Though it's touted as a learning lab for students in the college's hospitality program, critics complained that students rarely work in the restaurant and its operations have cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
College administrators and board members have racked up thousands of dollars of taxpayer-funded food and liquor charges at the restaurant since it opened, according to invoices from the restaurant obtained through an open-records request.
County assessment officials said LeVan could simply apply an assessment to all college property being operated for profit and the onus would be on COD to fight the assessment through the Illinois Department of Revenue.
Revenue department officials said state law also allows that agency to impose property taxes on parts of the college "leased or otherwise used with a view to profit." But such a change would not occur until the end of the year.