CORTLAND – The town of Cortland recently paid almost $1 million to a pair of property tax buyers in a settlement agreement stemming from five-year old purchases, but officials said the funds can be recovered.
The Town Board and Mayor Russell Stokes are confident that because of a major upgrade to the town’s water treatment system, Cortland will recover that money – which was taken from reserve funds in its sewer and water department – within the next few years, Town Attorney Stuart Diamond said.
“We feel there’s a very good chance that Cortland will receive all the money it paid back, plus it will have additional funds to be used to further improvements to city services,” Diamond said, adding the town’s $20 million water treatment system completed in 2007 should help with recovering the funds.
“It clearly depends on an increase in population to take advantage of this significantly improved utility system,” he said. “This is a situation where Cortland has experienced difficulties associated with the Great Recession, but it has the methodology to bring back all the money that has been paid out.”
Joseph Bittorf and Jansen Investment Co. bought tax sales on large properties in Cortland in 2012 and 2013 after the owners of those properties failed to pay required fees, which included Special Service Area payments, Diamond said.
Both tax sales were vacated after Bittorf and Jansen Investment Co. filed sale and error claims in DeKalb County court.
After the town won at the circuit court level, Bittorf and Jansen Investment Co. brought the case to appellate court where the decision was reversed. Cortland eventually reached a settlement with Bittorf and Jansen Investment Co. on Dec. 1 – two days before the Illinois Supreme Court agreed to take on the case. Through the settlement, Bittorf and Jansen Investment Co. was paid $275,000 and $630,000, respectively.
The town of Cortland was relieved to come to an agreement, Diamond said, knowing Bittorf and Jansen Investment Co. could have claimed up to $1.8 million if Cortland lost the case in the Illinois Supreme Court.
Diamond said, “There was a statute that provides 12 percent interest going back to 2012. ... The full claim would’ve been twice what the settlement was reached at. We were able to settle the case with them for a little more than half of what they would have got if they had won.
“At the same time, [Bittorf and Jansen Investment Co.] also understood if the Supreme Court reversed the case then they would’ve ended up with nothing.”