URBANA — Free web access to documents and more help for homeowners facing foreclosure are two issues being raised in the race for Champaign County recorder of deeds.
Republican incumbent Barb Frasca, who is seeking a fifth term, is being challenged by Democrat D'Anne Winston, a former clerk in the recorder's office who also ran for City of Champaign Township supervisor in 2009.
The recorder's office files and maintains records relating to real estate in Champaign County — deeds, mortgages, property liens — as well as subdivision plats, land surveys, monument records and military discharges.
Winston objects to the $5.95 fee that homeowners are charged to view and copy a mortgage or other document online. She questions why the recorder's office pays a third-party vendor for services and customers are charged, too.
Frasca said the fee includes a copy of the document, if desired. Individuals can also get a free copy of their deed by visiting the office in person or ordering one by phone, or get other documents that way for 15 cents a page.
"But if you want to be able to sit at home in your bathrobe at 2 in the morning and search our records, in order for us to provide that service we have to charge for that. Otherwise, the county just doesn't have the funds to provide those services," she said.
The vendor, Fidlar, was used by the office before Frasca was elected and is a specialist in property recording and fraud prevention, she said. Her office pays the company for software licensing and other services. The fee users pay goes mostly to the county, with a small percentage going to the company, Frasca said.
"It really is the most cost-effective and safest way to provide the services," Frasca said. "Some people think we should give everything away. The problem is that technology is expensive."
Winston also believes the recorder's office could do more to teach homeowners facing foreclosure about resources to help them. She said Frasca should have better publicized the guidelines and deadlines for homeowners eligible for a national bank foreclosure settlement earlier this year.
"As a government office, I do think it's her responsibility to let homeowners know what they need to do to protect their homes," Winston said.
The settlement involved banks accused of deceptive or discriminatory home-lending practices. Frasca posted information about the settlement on her website, with frequently asked questions, deadlines and contact information. Winston said it didn't provide details about where local families could get help.
Frasca said her office can help homeowners track down documents, but the Illinois attorney general's office is handling the settlement, and her office passes along information as it comes out.
She also posted links to media reports about banks accused of setting up "robosigning" mills to forge property titles that were never filed with local counties when the loans were sold as mortgage-backed securities. Banks needed the titles to foreclose on homeowners after the housing market collapsed.
Frasca said she worked with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on that issue and continues to push for a state law that would force banks to file mortgages in the county where the property is located.
Frasca is proud of her efforts to update the office and in her next term hopes to encourage more banks and title companies to use the electronic document-recording system she started. She also wants to complete a project to convert 150 years' worth of paper and microfilm records to digital images.
She said she would love to have more staff for the effort, but county finances are tight. The office receives about $300,000 annually from an automation account, funded by a $3 fee on each recorded document, but there are more and more demands on that money.
The recorder's office receives about $1.2 million in general county funding. It has 4.5 full-time employees, in addition to Frasca, who earns $86,328 annually.
Winston said her accounting skills and familiarity with local government would be assets as a recorder.
She was a clerk in the recorder's office from 1991 to 1996 under Democrat Naomi Jakobsson, now a state representative. She was also an accountant for City of Champaign Township and a program coordinator at the Champaign-Urbana Area Project until grant funding ran out. She now works part-time at the University of Illinois.
"I'm a problem-solver," she said. "I just feel passionate about serving the public."
Winston, who is married and has two adult children, was born in Oklahoma "a military brat." She moved to Chicago to live with her grandmother at age 3, when her mother died, and then moved in with another family in Urbana as a high school junior. She earned a degree in mass communications from Parkland College.
Frasca attended Centennial High School and got a bachelor's degree in elementary education from the University of Illinois in 1984. She taught at Armstrong-Ellis Grade School, as well as Dr. Howard, Bottenfield and Westview schools in Champaign. After having children, she worked part time, teaching and selling real estate. She defeated Democrat Patricia Avery for the recorder's job in 1996 and was re-elected in 2000, 2004 and 2008. Frasca and her husband, Tom, who manages Frasca Field in Urbana, have two daughters.