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Invalid paperwork means Harvey can't collect property taxes in 2016

Thursday, January 07, 2016
Chicago Tribune
by Matthew Walberg

The financially troubled suburb of Harvey will not be able to collect property taxes in 2016 after county officials determined the city's ordinance to collect the funds — filed without the approval of the City Council — is invalid.

Last month, Mayor Eric Kellogg and his political ally, City Clerk Nancy Clark, filed the ordinance with the Cook County clerk's office as required by law. However, the measure had been previously voted down by the majority of the council after weeks of bitter infighting over what some members say is the mayor's refusal to provide them with information about city finances.

A spokesman for Cook County Clerk David Orr said after consulting with the Cook County state's attorney's office, officials concluded the levy filed by the mayor and city clerk "was not legally valid."

As a result, Harvey will likely lose a massive portion of its annual revenue. The tax levy appears to fund roughly half the city's annual budget, though exact figures are impossible to know due to the Kellogg administration's chronic failure to submit legally required annual audits showing how it collects and spends its funds. In 2015, the city's levy made up about 40 percent of a typical Harvey tax bill.

Harvey officials, who warned previously that the city might have to reduce its workforce by half without the tax money, said they disagreed with the decision and hinted that the city may challenge the county clerk's determination in court.

"The mayor exercised his executive power and submitted the levy to the County of Cook," city spokesman Sean Howard said in a statement. "We look forward to a resolution and hopefully avoid lengthy litigation. However, we will continue to fight in the best interest of the hundreds of policemen, firemen, public works employees, their families and the 25,000 residents of our community."

Howard did not say what legal action, if any, the city might pursue, but Ald. Keith Price, who supported the levy, said he would support such an effort because he is unaware of any remedy in case or statutory law.

"Something definitely needs to be on the books so this doesn't happen to other towns," Price said, adding that the only other example he knew of was the tiny suburb of Dixmoor, which once failed to pass a levy amid political infighting.

But Harvey aldermen on the majority bloc seemed determined to halt any legal fight.

"Litigation about the tax levy, after the council voted it down, is simply another demonstration of the administration's disregard for the council's authority and democratic process," Ald. Christopher Clark said. "It is another waste of taxpayer dollars. My office will not support it."

Harvey's failure to pass the levy comes after a series of Tribune investigations chronicling subpar policing and insider deals, including a failed hotel development involving a former Kellogg aide now at the center of a federal corruption investigation. The mayor has repeatedly refused to answer questions under oath about the project, citing his Fifth Amendment right to avoid saying anything that could be used to prosecute him.

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