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Grundy County approves settlement with Midwest Generation

MORRIS – Grundy County’s longest-lasting lawsuit is one step closer to ending after 13 years.

Grundy County became the second of eight taxing bodies involved in Midwest Generation litigation to approve a settlement agreement with the company.

“This was the longest case at PTAB [Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board],” said Chris Balkema, chairman of the Grundy County Tax Committee, after the settlement was approved. “It was a huge liability for all of us, and I think we have reached a good deal for everyone involved.”

Grundy County approved the settlement during Tuesday’s County Board meeting after Morris School District 101 approved it at Monday’s school board meeting.

“This is a really good thing for the county and all the taxing bodies involved,” said Ron Severson, Grundy County Board chairman, before Tuesday’s meeting. Severson was absent from the Tuesday’s meeting, but said he supported the passage of the settlement.

The lawsuit stems from a property tax dispute initiated by Midwest Generation in 2000. The company claimed the equalized assessed property value of Collins Power Station was too high, while some taxing bodies believed it to be too low. Dispute over the EAV ensued for the next 13 years.

Collins Station was located on 2,000 acres of land in rural Morris and closed in 2005, but argument over the property’s EAV continued for several years after its closure.

Morris taxing bodies that received tax dollars based on Collins Station’s EAV were liable to repay $25 million in funds if Midwest Generation would have won the case.

With the settlement, all taxing bodies and Midwest Generation will agree to walk away from the lawsuit, resolving any tax disputes and property liens.

Taxing bodies listed in the official settlement include: Morris School District 101, Morris School District 54, Grundy County, Morris Fire Protection and Ambulance District, Goose Lake Township Road District, Goose Lake Township, Morris Area Public Library and Joliet Junior College.

“It’s great to be finished with these discussions and have this finally put behind us,” Heidi Miller, Grundy County interim administrator, said. “We can start looking forward and open up that land for redevelopment.”

Midwest Generation filed for bankruptcy in December 2012, which helped to progress settlement discussions.

NRG Energy Inc. – a New Jersey based company – is slated to buy Midwest Generation’s assets and could become the new owner the Collins Station property once the settlement is passed by all taxing bodies.

Severson said the county included the property in an Economic Development Project Area as part of previous settlement discussions. The EDPA provides property tax breaks for companies that operate within its borders.

“It’s 2,000 acres in an EDPA so it’s inviting for a company to come in,” Severson said. “Plus, if we keep our sales tax at 6.25 percent, we’re one of the lowest in the state so it makes a good business climate.”

The county is also “getting close” with other major settlement agreements involving Exelon and Lyondellbasell, Severson said.

The board almost approved a settlement agreement with Lyondellbasell during last month’s county board meeting, but pulled the item last-minute to make some more adjustments.

“It’s good that this is one is ending,” Balkema said of the Midwest Generation lawsuit. “One down, two to go.”

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