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District 54 unanimously approves Midwest Generation settlement

MORRIS – The 13-year lawsuit between Midwest Generation and local taxing bodies, including Morris Elementary School District 54, is coming to an end.

“It’s been a work in progress since I came in the door in 2005,” Teri Shaw, superintendent for District 54, said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s been a long road to get to the end.”

The District 54 school board met Tuesday evening where the settlement was approved by unanimous vote with board members Carol Narvick and Bonnie Cap absent.

While few details have been released, the tentative settlement stipulates that both parties – the taxing bodies and Midwest Generation – will drop any previous charges and walk away from the lawsuit. With the settlement, the taxing bodies would be free from paying back millions.

In 2000, the company disputed the equalized assessed property value of the Collins Power Station – formerly located on a 2,000 acre plot in rural Morris – claiming the assessed value of the property was too high. The taxing bodies that received funds, based on that EAV, appealed Midwest Generation’s claim to avoid repaying nearly $25 million in tax dollars to the company.

“It’s a great settlement for the school district,” Shaw said during Tuesday night’s board meeting. “It’s a great settlement for all the taxing bodies.”

District 54 and Morris Community High School District 101 are the two largest players in the settlement, with Grundy County a close third. Other taxing bodies included are Goose Lake Township, Morris Fire Protection and Ambulance District, Joliet Junior College, Morris Area Public Library, among others.

“We’re pleased,” Shaw said before the meeting. “It would have cost District 54 $10 [million] to $11 million if we lost. It’s a great settlement for the district.”

Midwest Generation filed for bankruptcy in December 2012, which played a role in speeding up the settlement discussions District 101 Superintendent Pat Halloran said in a previous interview.

The settlement also could mean more money for Morris school districts when the 2,000 acres of Grundy County land is redeveloped by new companies.

“The district will work with all and any of the taxing bodies to put another industrial base on that site,” Shaw said.

The Collins Power Plant, formerly on the plot, closed in 2005.

Before closing, Collins accounted for 56 percent of District 54’s tax base and 35 percent of District 101’s base.

As litigation continued, the land lay undeveloped for the last nine years. Taxing bodies were unable to recoup the lost EAV as no new businesses could build on the location.

Shaw said the lost EAV caused draconian cuts within District 54 and the recovery has been slowed with the down turn in EAV over the last four years.

“We’ve implemented many cost savings,” Shaw said.

If the settlement goes forward, the taxing bodies will see immediate savings in legal fees.

The two school districts have paid the bulk of those fees, which have added up over the last 13 years.

The Morris library’s board of trustees last week approved a resolution authorizing the settlement agreement, as did the Grundy County Board and District 101.

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