County responds to Treasurer department issues

News

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — Employees at the Champaign County Treasurer’s office are logging “long hours, evenings, weekends, every day” to correct website issues that show some people who paid their property taxes already amassed late fees for not paying any taxes at all, Treasurer Marisol Hughes said.

Some taxpayers who checked the Assessor’s webpage recently say the county’s website didn’t show the payments that they had made — and, in some cases, added a late fee over the apparent nonpayments.

Stefanie Pratt, a realtor who said the issue has affected her clients as well as herself, said she’s seen “attorneys and sellers for closings” become “frustrated” at the challenge of obtaining accurate records during the home-selling process.

“I respect that people are overworked, but this is something that people get concerned about,” she said. “Tax bills came out on time this year, the first week of May. They expect them to be paid on time, but cannot record them on time.”

The issue is one of several that have plagued the department for more than a year — including, among them, the months-long delayed distribution of property tax dollars to districts all across the county.

Hughes and Chief Deputy Treasurer Alejandra Aguero said a number of compounding issues have led to the department becoming a “bit overwhelmed.” Among those issues: Adapting to new software — one used by dozens of counties across the state — and a currently-understaffed department.

“We have a vacancy right now: One employee just left and we’re trying to hire a new person and fill that position right now,” Hughes said. “But also, we don’t have a lot of budget right now to hire…people as (temps).”

Hughes inherited the department from former Treasurer Laurel Prussing, who resigned from the four-year position on January 31 after occupying it for just more than a year; Hughes has been on the job since March following her unanimous appointment by the county board.

Aguero said the public may not realize that the department’s operations don’t “work as seamless as you’d think that it would,” adding that the website that shows whether or not someone has paid their taxes lags by a few days. The five payment methods the department accepts — escrow, credit cards, personal checks, bank withdrawals and cash — involve more manual work than realized, she said.

“Every day we’re just trying to solve problems as fast as we can,” she said. “We have been working long hours and weekends.”

Former Treasurer John Farney said a lack of institutional knowledge is likely another factor also leading to the issues within the department.

“It’s inexperience — that’s a big chunk of it,” he said. “When you have a revolving door of management which they’ve had over the last year, you don’t have anybody that understands the process, or was involved with it in the past. The people in those positions are causing the vast majority of the problems having never been through a tax cycle. There is no institutional knowledge int here right now. When you couple that with the fact that they implemented new software last year… it compounds the problem. It’s a very unique situation.”

Pratt said communication from the department would be “key” going forward; Farney echoed the sentiment.

“People are upset they’re seeing their taxes aren’t paid,” he said. “It’s too late when you’ve upset the taxpayer. Correct the communication issues and let people know you’re working on it. If it happens again in September, it’s gross incompetence, I hate to say it.”

Aguero added that the department is requesting that people who no longer own property in the county notify the Treasurer’s office of that change 10 days before the tax would be taken out as an automatic payment. She and Hughes also encouraged taxpayers to reach out to their office if they see discrepancies via phone (217-384-3743) or email treasurer@co.champaign.il.us.

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