ERIE, Ill. — The Erie Community Unit School District was found to owe 3M's Cordova facility nearly $270,000 after the company's land was reassessed to a lower property tax, despite a lawsuit from the state alleging 3M manufactured and improperly disposed of dangerous chemicals that leaked into local waterways.
It's the largest chunk of more than half a million dollars owed back to the company after a November 2021 ruling from the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board found the land 3M's Cordova plant is on was improperly assessed.
Besides the district, nine other entities including Rock Island County, Cordova Township and Black Hawk College owe 3M an estimated $510,690.28.
Erie Superintendent Chuck Milem called the owed money "frustrating" but said the district didn't have anything to worry about.
"It's frustrating, I guess. But in the end, it's not going to break us by any means," Milem said. "When you see the number it's kind of scary but then when you look at the overall scope of the school district's budget, it's not drastic for us."
The district's 2021-22 budget has an expense budget of more than $14.5 million. It owes 3M $269,276.60, according to the Rock Island County Treasurer's Office.
"Essentially, this was an assessment dispute. So what 3M assessed their property versus what the county assessed it to were two different things. And they were actually vastly, vastly different," Milem said.
He says the district decided to settle with the company before 3M brought the taxes to the state's appeal board. Doing so, Milem argued, actually made it easier for the district since it didn't have to sit through what could have been years of appeals.
"3M was requesting a heavy, a very heavy reimbursement on the district. So the district attorneys were able to really negotiate that down to actually two-thirds less of what they were actually asking for," Milem said.
The district is also financially sound, he told News 8, saying Erie schools have no debt and actually received more funds than normal during the pandemic thanks to money flowing in from the federal government.
"So I guess we were in a better spot to manage this fiscally than maybe some districts would have been," Milem said.
He declined to comment on the lawsuit against 3M, saying instead that he could only speak on behalf of the district and was focused on moving forward.
In March, the Illinois attorney general filed a suit against the company for allegedly manufacturing a dangerous group of synthetic chemicals known as PFAS or "forever chemicals." One PFAS is in the environment it's extremely difficult to extract it.
The state alleges 3M improperly disposed of PFAS for years and knew the chemicals were making their way into local drinking water, groundwater and the Mississippi River.
3M has denied all of the allegations.
Milem says the final payment to 3M should be sent to the company around June.