Buzzi awaits ruling on tax reassessment
By Tom Collins
NewsTribune Senior Reporter
Buzzi Unicem’s cement operations in Oglesby have been idled so long that it’d take $20 million to put the plant back online. That is to say, it’ll never happen.
As a result, Buzzi says the plant is overvalued and overtaxed.
Tuesday, Buzzi asked La Salle County Board of Review to shave its property assessment by 75 percent, from just under $4 million to just under $1 million.
“This is a plant that’s more than 100 years old,” Thomas Breecher, a certified public account for Buzzi, told the board. “(Buzzi) didn’t make the decision to shut it down lightly.”
But with operations permanently halted — the Oglesby plant serves only as a distribution facility — Buzzi wants the property reassessed for the first time since the late 1970s.
That’s going to take some doing, but the board of review promised a decision on March 7.
Lawyers representing some of the affected taxing bodies did not take a formal position for or against Buzzi’s request Tuesday, in part because Buzzi’s detailed petition was handed to them just minutes before the hearing began.
Jim Peters, attorney for Tonica and Deer Park schools, asked the board for a seven-day review period to digest Buzzi’s just-issued facts and figures. The board readily agreed. The parties have until Feb. 5 to submit supplemental materials for the board’s consideration.
According to Buzzi’s filing, the company is challenging the assessment of 14 parcels with a current taxable value of $3,991,710. Buzzi thinks the taxable value should be $997,930.
Most of those parcels are comprised of depleted quarries, idled processing units and “buffer properties” that Buzzi acquired to absorb blasting shocks and keep Oglesby residents from having picture frames knocked off their walls.
Though the parcels are zoned industrial, some of the property is arable farmland with market value should Buzzi elect to liquidate its assets down the road. Also included in the petition is a south quarry that was excavated just eight years before Buzzi decided to idle the plant.
That quarry could have market value, Breecher allowed, but the entire cement industry was hamstrung by the Great Recession and isn’t projected to rebound until at least 2015. Buzzi shuttered operations in Oglesby after market conditions sent prices down 9 percent and slashed U.S. production in half.
Actually, Buzzi has more than 30 parcels in La Salle County; but Breecher said Buzzi elected to limit its tax challenge to fewer than half its local holdings.
“I don’t think (the remaining parcels) are fairly assessed,” Breecher told the board. “It’s just that the dollars were too small to bring to the board.”
The city of Oglesby would bear the lion’s share of any tax reduction. As previously reported, Oglesby officials estimated Buzzi parcels within city limits account for $2 million of its current tax base.
However, a sweeping reduction would also impact La Salle County and no fewer than five school districts including Illinois Valley Community College, La Salle-Peru Township High School, and Oglesby, Tonica and Deer Park elementary schools.
Breecher said Buzzi understands a 75-percent reduction would be a tough pill for the taxing bodies to swallow, and thus would agree to phase in its reduction over a three-year period, starting with about $850,000 in relief for tax year 2012.
Before the board awards any relief, however, Buzzi was asked to provide additional data — starting with a 2011 appraisal of a depleted north quarry.
Oglesby mayor Don Finley told the board he contacted Buzzi about acquiring the quarry for use as a lake or park and was told, via email, that the company had a possible buyer lined up. That caught Breecher by surprise; he told the board he was unaware of any such transaction.
Scott Ginsburg, an attorney representing L-P, Oglesby Elementary and the city, told the board he would discuss with his clients the possibility of seeking an independent appraisal.
There were, however, no vocal objections to the board of review during Tuesday’s hearing. Indeed, Oglesby city attorney Jim Andreoni previously acknowledged that Buzzi would get at least a partial reduction.
“Realistically, they probably are going to get some relief,” Andreoni had said.
Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or email@example.com.