URBANA — “Blindsided” was the first word that came to mind for Cunningham Township Assessor Wayne Williams after a tense and probing meeting on his budget request.
Township board members voted this week to give the assessor’s office only half of its $71,000 budget request, putting a wrench in Williams’ plans to change the way properties are assessed. And his plan to hire one more full-time employee while retaining three interns is no longer feasible.
“The fiscal year started on July 1, they voted on this July 1, and I had no advance notice,” Williams said. “I’ve called them and spoken to them in the two months since the first presentation and didn’t hear anything. Now, I just need time to figure out what I’m going to do.”
The vote occurred after board members Bill Brown and Maryalice Wu questioned Williams, and after public comments from former Deputy Assessor Katie Moore.
Moore, who worked in the office from April 2012 to April 2018, asked the board Monday to reject Williams’ request, calling it a ”waste of taxpayer money.” She also called out Williams on multiple alleged transgressions while she worked with him, and shocked many in the room when she spoke of the way former Assessor Dan Stebbins ran the office.
“They do not need to spend that extra money on another person,” Moore said. “Cunningham Township already has four full-time employees and three interns. That’s more staff than Champaign. So I don’t know what all the other employees will be doing at the time this one person is reassessing all the properties.”
Like Moore, Brown and Wu had concerns about what the township would do with the money being requested. Williams’ plans were to reassess every parcel in Cunningham Township as a means of correcting what he said are “ridiculous” discrepancies.
Williams said according to Illinois Department of Revenue figures for township assessments over the past five years, Cunningham has been over-assessing lower-priced homes and under-assessing higher-priced homes, leading to vast inequities.
“I walked into a situation on January 1, 2018, where the previous staff left me with assessments that were disproportionately unfair to people with lower-value homes,” Williams said. “It surprises me every time that Cunningham Township has such a high differential. That doesn’t just mean it’s unfair. It means poor people are getting screwed.”
But Brown said on Monday that he supported the budget cut “to try to prevent administrative waste.”
“We need to do that if we’re going to carry some of these programs forward because we’re spending down, and we need to make sure we aren’t wasting money,” Brown said to Williams. “I’ve made the comparison before to the Champaign office, and they have roughly the same staffing but have twice as many properties. There’s a lot that concerned me when Dan was assessor, but now you seem engaged and active in your office. With your added contribution to the mix, it seems like the existing staffing is fine.”
Wu felt that Williams could accomplish his goals over a longer period of time, and was concerned that the assessor’s office was trying to do too much work in one year that it could potentially stretch out.
“I can’t say if there’s a better way to do it, but my concern is I don’t want us going into a deficit,” Wu said. “We’re simply spending more money than we’re getting in, and we have to rein in expenses. I’m going to stop by and see what these guys are doing.”
When asked by board member Shirese Hursey whether he could move forward with his plans following a vote to cut his budget, Williams said he could retain the interns or hire a full-time person, but not both.