You might as well be the judge.

Nobody else will.

When Walmart bought land in Silvis about five years ago, nearby property values shot way up, into the millions.

In a column in August, we learned about one businessman who lost it all because of an impossible 600 percent jump in his land value and a near six-digit tax bill. After a little digging, we now learn another Walmart neighbor had quite a different experience. Interestingly, the second businessman, Hampton Township Assessor Jim Cramblett, gets to set his own tax bill.

Kurt Kretchman was running a driving range and modest pro shop on part of the 30 acres he bought along John Deere Expressway in 1994. In 2007, the year before Walmart arrived, business was steady. The $265,000 land deal was paid off, and he was debt free. Protential Golf Center would be Kretchman's retirement account.

When he learned his acreage suddenly was valued by Hampton Township Assessor Jim Cramblett at $3.2 million — the same Walmart paid for its 30 acres — the former golf pro figured he was sitting pretty. He could sell off a chunk and make a tidy profit.

But his new tax bill delivered more sobering news: It went from $16,000 in 2007 to just shy of $100,000 in 2008.

He tried and tried to sell, but no one was interested — even when he lowered the price to less than one-third of what Cramblett said it was worth. He had to borrow to pay his property taxes. And he kept borrowing. The 600 percent increase in his property value was costing him hundreds of thousands in taxes.

He repeatedly went back to Cramblett, begging for relief. Couldn't he see that he was wrong? Even if his land had been worth millions the day Walmart bought next door, the economy was in the toilet, and no one was buying.

Ultimately, Kretchman lost it all, and Protential went back to the bank. Naturally, he was outraged.

During a summer interview, shortly after the bank finally sold the land for $685,000, Kretchman said something that seemed rhetorical at the time:

"Raising the value of land by 600 percent when a guy hasn't made a single improvement should be against the law," he said. "If somebody built the Taj Mahal next door to your house, is your house now worth several million?"

It appears the answer is: It depends on who owns it.

As it turns out, Cramblett, the assessor who raised Kretchman's property value by 600 percent, also owns property that neighbors Walmart. His restaurant, long-known as the Pauper's Den (now Thai Basils), is across Illinois 5 from Walmart. Even closer to Cramblett's restaurant is a Sonic restaurant, which was built on a Walmart outlot in 2008.

In conversations about how he arrived at the new property value for Kretchman's land, Cramblett explained, "Law in Illinois requires you to look at the land as if vacant, then add buildings."

But something must have changed between valuing Kretchman's land and valuing his own.

Today's county assessment records show the land for the Sonic restaurant that was built across John Deere Expressway from Cramblett's restaurant is worth $180,046. The Sonic lot size is 46,460 square feet. Cramblett's lot size is 43,346 square feet. Pretty close. But his land is valued at $68,583.

Cramblett's restaurant, which has undergone considerable interior and exterior remodeling in recent years, is 2,400 square feet. The Sonic building is 1,712 square feet and is valued at $121,384. Cramblett's larger building is valued at $69,670.

The combined land and building valuation at Sonic is $301,430. At Cramblett's restaurant, it's $123,138.

Cramblett was asked how this could be. Shouldn't his property in the Walmart corridor — across from Sonic — be similarly valued? If Kretchman's driving-range land was worth the same amount of money that Walmart was willing to pay, shouldn't his restaurant be worth whatever Sonic was willing to pay?

"I don't have access to the expressway," Cramblett said. "They (Sonic) are right on 5 and right in front of Walmart.

"It's difficult to turn left out of my place. Mine is on Crosstown (Avenue), and it's not the same thing."

Beyond the differences in driveway access, he said the equations he uses are complicated and said he could not precisely "defend" his valuation.

But shouldn't someone be able to explain, given the disparity that seems apparent here?

"I couldn't have a conversation about this," Chief Rock Island County Assessor Larry Wilson said. "I have no jurisdiction over them (assessors), per se."

How about Rock Island County Board chairman Phil Banaszek?

"Honestly, I'd have to do some checking to see what role, if any, the chairman has," he said. Several hours later, he added, "I learned a township assessor is pretty much his own boss and doesn't have to answer to anybody."

And how does Kretchman feel about all of this?

"Are you kidding?" he asked. "It's deplorable. It's another ripoff, as far as I'm concerned. Is this fraud? What is this? Is it a conflict of interest?"

Wilson, the chief assessor who is not to be confused with being Cramblett's boss, assured it is not a conflict.

"There are no provisions in the Property Tax Code that would not allow a township assessor to value their own property," he wrote in an email last week.

The annual tax bill at Sonic is $26,839.36, according to county records. For the assessor's restaurant, it's $11,601.24.

Location, location, vocation.

(22) comments

Klaatu
Klaatu

Tax yourself? Vote for democrats. 100% effective.

Hereandhere

Adjusting the value of a property based on your neighbor next door overpaying is too subjective.

Barb Ickes
Barb Ickes

George, Mr. Kretchman appealed, yes. The appeal board had a four-year waiting list. Meanwhile, he continued to pay the bloated tax bill, ultimately costing him the property.
I hope you don't stand by all your previous statements, because you misquoted the final line of the column.
And some bad news: You CAN be sued for a bad haircut. You likely would come out on top, but it happens.

george the barber
george the barber

My compliments on your creative turn of that well known phrase. It only took me two more readings to catch it. My bad !!

Barb Ickes
Barb Ickes

If it took you three readings to catch my drift, I'd say it was MY bad.

george the barber
george the barber

Barb, not only did I re-read your article, I drove by the area in question to refresh my memory. I stand by all of my previous statements. My mentioning the Dollar General was in reference to your description of Cramblettt's property being a neighbor of Wal Mart.
I do have a few more thoughts;

First off, appraising (assessing) a property's value is not a straight line hard wired process. That is where experience comes in to play. Subjective, professional opinion is the desired result. These township assessors are graded by the state by the application of a multiplier. If the assessors is doing his job correctly, a 100 % multiplier is assigned. What is the current multiplier for Hampton Township ?

If the owner of a property does not agree with his new assessed value, there is an appeals process available to him. You surely are aware of what the owners of South Park Mall have done. Did Mr. Kretchman go to appeals court ? If so, what was the result ? If not, why not ?

If Mr. Kretchman had sold his property at or near the price that Wal Mart had paid, and his assessed value had not been increased, Mr. Cramblett would have been guilty of gross malfeasance at the other tax payers expense.

One last thought, just as I could not be sued for a bad haircut, the assessor cannot be sued for a judgment call. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I also know from personal experience that there is no provision in Illinois law to provide for recovering any past paid property taxes except for the current year.

FireInTheHole

I hope Kurt Kretchman finds a way to get restitution -- what happened to him was unfair. And I hope the County and Township Assessors get what's coming to them, too. They showed disregard for representing their fellow taxpayers with wisdom and impartiality. If not outright crooks, they are at least slime balls, and they should be held accountable. Thanks to Barb Ickes and the Quad City Times for bringing their short-comings to light.

tbr

Rock Island County and it's politics continue to be an embarrassment. In the Quad CIties it is a 10 minute decision to move to Iowa. Look at the growth in Bettendorf and the rest of Scott County. Look at the new schools. Rock Island county will have four referendums wanting more tax dollars. They cant run a nursing home, they cant run a zoo and they obviously cant run an assessors office. Truly embarrassing - but we send the same clowns to springfield every year.

Sherman

The article made it seem like there is nobody who this Campbell person has to report to as a check and balance. If I were anyone that feels that they have been wronged by a government agency, there is a an agency that they can file a complaint with that is mandated to investigate suspected government misconduct.

Please contact the Illinois State Ombudsman Office. Have all of your ducks in a row, lay it out for them and if they feel that there has been misconduct they are obligated to investigate. They have powers of subpoena, can open all the books and have the power to make government officials answer their questions. This sounds like something that can and should be investigated by that agency.

Sometimes the only way to find relief is to get it for yourself by fighting back using the right agency.

Mister Know It All
Mister Know It All

i am so glad i don't live in Illinois. Why the citizens put up with all these sleazy politicians and their appointees is beyond me. And they keep re electing these crooks. I guess you get what you deserve. It's a culture of political cronyism.

Barb Ickes
Barb Ickes

George: Please reread the last comment.
And the Dollar General is not a restaurant.

just curious

Barb, I think you are performing a great service to the potential owners in that area. I have read your articles about this egregious atrocity to this businessman and pray that he takes the suggestion of the poster that outlines what steps he needs to take to have this rectified. I believe our courts are overloaded with senseless lawsuits - like the mc donalds coffee in the lap suit - but if his case is as you have outlined he should be in line to have a very good settlement.

Chili Dawg

So when his property went up in value, he was happy because he could sell some it and make a profit. But when his taxes were raised he was angry. Hmm, you can't have it both ways.

atlasshrugged

Special rules for bureaucrats. Of course she thinks he's a crook. She just can't say that without being sued. I applaud her for continuing to stay on the story. The lesson to be learned from this incident is that government officials do not have to live by the same laws they pass as the rest of us. Just like Obamacare, if you like it so much and it will be good for the country then turn down your subsidy, drop your current insurance coverage and sign up. I have yet to see one senator or congressman do that.

TPOREILLY

everyone needs to go to his restaurant, eat, and get up and leave

justanopinion

"If you think he is a crook, tell us. If not, let it go." What? I think it is Barb's job to tell us the FACTS as she gets them - which she has. It is OUR job to use these facts as reported to develop our own opinion of whether "he is a crook." I only wish others (with authority) would step in and take a look at this situation. It sure seems like Kurt Kretchman got whacked with in the "putter."

georgeandersonxyz

Illinois is now "Closed For Business". If you live or own a business in Illinois, you need to move as the State of Illinois is about a decade from becoming Detroit.

sgtcarter

I'll tell you he's one, now let barb to her job and continue to give details.......this is the 1st I've heard of this and I'd like to see if "justice" finally happens...........

Style

Where there's smoke, there's fire.

george the barber
george the barber

Barb, your last comment "location, location, location" says it all. I believe that it would be more accurate to describe their location as being a neighbor to the Dollar General store. That whole shopping center is well past it's prime value. To say it is run down may be a stretch, but it is my opinion that they almost qualify for a T.I.F. consideration. You mentioned remodeling efforts but an appraiser will tell you that repairs and upkeep do not raise the value of one's property. And Highway 5 may as well be the Mississippi River. Any planner can tell you that it is very difficult to divert business traffic even a short distance from a high speed corridor.

This is your second piece on this man. If you think he is a crook, tell us. If not, let it go.

snowman05

It's Barb, it may take ten articles for her to get to that conclusion.

common2cents

Whether or not the man is a crook is a matter of opinion. This is not an editorial piece. Barb has presented the facts as she knows it. Draw your own conclusion.

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