URBANA — Issues with the Champaign County Treasurer’s office have continued to pile up.
A few months after taxpayers began complaining about the late payment penalties they were seeing after paying their property taxes early or on time, some taxing districts have said the treasurer is running behind on distributing the property tax money they’re owed and is also withholding a larger amount of their money than usual.
Champaign Public Library Director Donna Pittman said the library still hasn’t received $700,000 from the first installment on 2019 property taxes payable this year. That first installment came due for taxpayers June 1.
When the library will begin seeing any distributions from the treasurer from the second installment — which came due for taxpayers Sept. 1 — is unknown, she said.
Since the library is dependent on property taxes for 95 percent of its operation, delays are a problem, Pittman said.
“Last year it was late, and this year it is very late,” she said.
Pittman said the library was told by county Treasurer Marisol Hughes’ office that 10 percent of the library’s tax distributions would be held back to cover contested taxes, but in fact, “they’re actually holding on to 17.5 percent.”
Kay Nees, finance director for the city of Champaign, said the city’s main property tax issue is that distributions from the second installment of property taxes are running later than usual, and a larger amount than usual is being held back.
The city has received $12.4 million of the $24.7 million in property taxes it expected from the 2019 tax year, Nees said, “so we’re not too far off.”
But typically the treasurer’s office would be making distributions to the city on taxpayers’ second installment payments in late July or early August, and those distributions would continue through the end of September, she said.
The delay is causing issues for the library and in late payments to city pension funds, Nees said.
The city typically handles the library’s payroll and the library repays the city, and now the library is late on those repayments, she said.
The city is managing this issue, Nees said, but it’s also not as heavily reliant on property taxes as some other taxing districts are.
As of Sept. 10, Hughes has closed the treasurer’s office to walk-in traffic until further notice, she said.
Taxpayers can make appointments to come into the office by emailing or calling the treasurer’s office, but all phone options for that office lead to recorded messages only.
Hughes said her office is processing the second installment of property taxes. Her office also has made the first three distributions to taxing districts and hopes to have a fourth distribution to taxing districts at the end of this month or early next month, she said.
Taxing districts haven’t received all the money from the first installment yet, because the amounts are “overstated,” Hughes said.
“We were planning to process the fourth distribution for all taxing districts this week, but we decided not to do that since it will be better for the districts to receive the 100 percent of the distribution after we make the adjustments and process all payments from the second installment,” she said.
Hughes also said her office is crediting property tax payments on the day they are received, “which avoids any late fees” for taxpayers.
She also said her office was preparing to start processing refunds for “duplicate payments” that were made on property taxes in about three weeks.
The current goal is to finish processing the second installment payments and fix errors to be ready for the annual tax sale, Hughes said.
“We don’t know the exact date when we will open the office again,” she said.
John Baker, finance director for the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, said the district would normally have its fourth distribution of taxes by now.
“By July, we would have received about 55 percent of our distributions (for the year), and this year it looks like we have received 43 percent,” he said.
“It’s not horrible, but it’s a concern,” Baker said.
That’s because the district board wants to maintain a three percent operating reserve, and the district is likely going to need to dip into its reserves probably next month if it doesn’t receive a fourth installment on its tax money this month, Baker said.
The district has been in regular contact with the treasurer’s office, he said, but “we’re getting to a point where we have to ask some strong questions of the treasurer.”
Robert Kouzmanoff, Mahomet’s village treasurer, said a larger-than-usual percentage of first installment distributions has also been withheld for the village.
“We’re about 17 percent less than what we would have expected at this point,” he said.
Mahomet has cash reserves to cover its operations, Kouzmanoff said, but is holding back on capital purchases and improvements.
Kouzmanoff said he also had to file Freedom of Information Act requests with the treasurer’s office to get breakdowns on the amount of pass-through payments the village owes taxing districts overlapping a Mahomet Tax Increment Financing district.
Meanwhile, Hughes recently replaced her chief deputy.
A letter she sent to former Chief Deputy Treasurer Alejandra Aguero states Aguero’s employment was terminated as of the end of the day Aug. 28.
“My decision is final,” Hughes said in her letter.
Champaign County Executive Darlene Kloeppel said the new chief deputy treasurer, Dan Stitch, was hired a week ago.
Kloeppel also said there has been some discussion about removing Hughes from office because “different people have been unhappy with things she did.”
But there are no actions related to that coming up before the county board, Kloeppel said.
“I don’t think there’s enough support for it, because there’s two months left,” she said.
Hughes was appointed treasurer in March to fill the rest of the term left vacant by former county Treasurer Laurel Prussing, who resigned, and will be leaving office after the Nov. 3 election.