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Another day in court awaits local taxpayers group
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A local taxpayers group said it is no longer seeking the removal of three members of the Effingham County Board of Assessors — but it is asking for a state law to be enforced.

An Effingham County Judicial Complex courtroom was packed Tuesday as the “We, the Taxpayers” group had its first day in court in its battle to have 2009 tax valuations pushed back to 2008 levels.

“I think it’s evidence of the public interest and the public need in this,” said Ruth Lee of “We, the Taxpayers.”

Dana Braun, representing “We, the Taxpayers,” and Patrick O’Connor, retained by the county to represent the assessors board, told Judge William E. Woodrum they already were talking together and thought they would be able to come to an agreement on defining what the critical issue is.

Tuesday’s hearing was to take up a motion to dismiss the petition by ‘We the Taxpayers’ and 261 freeholders in the county. The assessors board believes it falls under an exemption in the bill and that issue has to be dealt with before the main issues can be addressed.

“We’re going to be very cooperative with Mr. Braun to come up with a methodology that gets this issue before the court,” O’Connor said. “We simply have not had time to define what the procedure’s going to be.”

The attorneys requested to have 10 days in order to define the procedures to be presented to Judge Woodrum. That would be followed by either another hearing, a motion for summary judgement or an evidentiary hearing.

O’Connor said he was confident they could define the critical issue in 10 days.

“Really, it boils down to one exception under the statute in the bill and the need to focus on that,” Braun said.

O’Connor said the assessors board would meet Feb. 1, and he planned on having an executive session with them following their regular meeting. He said he thought by then, he and Braun would have what they think is the proper procedure for going forward.

Lee said the group pursued the removal of three assessors board members because that was the only vehicle they had as citizens, without hiring an attorney.

“Of course, in the end we had to hire an attorney anyway,” she said.  This is sort of what I expected to happen today. We are willing to drop the issue of the removal of the board members in favor of instituting HB 233, because that is essentially what we wanted all along. That’s the bill that says we should be under a moratorium. It covers the valuation for 2009 because it says it should go away and go back to 2008 (values).”

The two sides will have a hearing before Judge Woodrum on Feb. 8 at 9:30 a.m. Lee said that court appearance won’t do much for the group, other than establish what the court will hear in the case.

“There’s some thought that the court may ask us to go to mediation,” she said. “We’ll just have to see.”