Rival alleges 'pattern of ... overassessment'

Rival alleges 'pattern of ... overassessment'

URBANA — Just days before the election, the challenger to incumbent Cunningham Township Assessor Dan Stebbins' office says 2013 has shown a "pattern of systemic overassessment."

Stebbins, meanwhile, says challenger Laura Sandefur's claims are based on too small a sample of home sales — the past three years' worth of home sales data, he said, show that, if anything, homes in Cunningham Township are slightly underassessed.

"We're pretty consistent on having accurate assessments," Stebbins said.

Sandefur, a member of the Champaign County Board of Review, based her claims on 24 Cunningham Township home sales in the first two months of 2013. She said 20 of those homes sold for an average 20 percent less than their assessment.

"I think that it's very easy to take his three years' worth of numbers and say that everything's groovy, but I think that you have to look at the market," Sandefur said.

"And one of my points of contention is that when you're valuing properties, you have to be realistic about what this stuff is going to sell for."

Stebbins said that's exactly what he has done. Based on 657 sales from 2010 to 2012, he said the median taxable assessment in Cunningham Township has been about 32.79 percent of the sale value — the target for taxable assessments is 33.33 percent.

Assessors value properties based on a mass-appraisal system — they group homes into neighborhoods and assign values based on what comparable homes in the same area are selling for.

In Cunningham Township, there are 20 such geographic neighborhoods. An unusually high or low sale price of one home can affect the assessment of others near it.

"I understand the handicap that township assessors deal with, with the mass appraisal system," Sandefur said. "But he's not been responsive to the market conditions as a whole."

Stebbins said that when he is valuing homes, what he hears most often is that homeowners only ask that their assessment is fair compared with other property owners'.

"As long as we're fair and equitable, that's all they care about," Stebbins said.

Last year produced 543 appeals to the Champaign County Board of Review, Stebbins said. There are about 9,900 parcels in Cunningham Township, and he said a 5 percent appeal rate is about average.

Sandefur said she has other plans for the office, too — she wants to hold workshops for homeowners to teach them about the assessment process.

"My intention is to hold as many open seminars as possible to educate homeowners about where these values come from," she said. "Assessors don't use a dartboard."

Stebbins' term runs through Dec. 31. The April 9 winner's assessments would first affect property taxes payable in 2015.

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