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New software snafu complicates Will County assessments

Problems with Will County recorder’s software system vexing township assessors May 7, 2015

Township assessors in Will County say problems stemming from a computer software upgrade in the recorder’s office has left them without critical information they need to complete property reassessments by July 1.

The assessors appealed Thursday to the county board’s executive committee to help them overcome the problem and improve communications and relationships among county offices, saying Recorder of Deeds Karen Stukel did not consult them when she installed new software that no longer provides critical information they need on property sales.

Without this information, “we cannot do our job,” said Joliet Township Assessor Dale Butalla, who’s also president of the Will County Assessors Association.

This is the second time in recent months that a county agency has suffered glitches with newly installed computer software. The Emergency Telephone System Board, which dispatches 911 calls, experienced computers occasionally crashing and freezing after it installed a $2 million upgrade in November — creating potentially life-threatening problems in responding to emergencies.

The new software obtained by Stukel’s office and the ETSB was obtained through no-bid contracts with vendors that previously supplied the agencies. Stukel insisted that her office was not required to seek bids for the software, which was supplied by Fidlar Technologies for $250,000.

The problems with the recorder’s office’s new software would be less critical if not for this being a quadrennial reassessment year.

“This is the Super Bowl year of assessments, and the ball was taken away from us,” Frankfort Township Assessor Joseph Kral said after Thursday’s committee meeting. “For us to do our job correctly, we have to have as much information as possible to be fair to the taxpayers.”

By state law, property in all counties but Cook County must be revalued every four years to ensure accurate assessment. Butalla said the township assessors wait to see what’s happening in the real estate market and adjust assessments based on the most current sales. Their figures are due by July 1.

Kral said Stukel’s new system is designed to meet the needs of banks and title companies, not assessors.

“The recorder should know what we need,” he said later, adding that Stukel is invited to the monthly meetings of the assessors and those involved in the property tax process but never attends. “We need to work together or it leads to chaos.”

Butalla and Kral told the executive committee that Stukel changed her computer system without consulting or informing them. While acknowledging that such upgrades are necessary, they urged county officials to consider what other agencies might be impacted by such changes and to seek their input.

“The communication was not there,” Rhonda Novak, the county’s supervisor of assessments, said, adding that the new system did not replicate the system they have used for several years. “When putting in a new system, allow for at least the same, if not better, service.”

Stukel said she was not aware of the assessors’ issues with the new software until April, which they disputed, saying that they had informed her, and the county board, in February.

A Feb. 18 letter from the assessors association to the county board says that when the recorder’s new system went live Dec. 8, several township assessors knew nothing about it.

Stukel’s office sent an email Nov. 25, informing the assessors about the impending software switch, but some of them said they never got the email.

The letter says that at a training session in January, the assessors were told that the new system did not include a search for real estate transfer declarations, a key component of the assessment process, and that has “put an extra burden on our offices to get our assessments done in a timely manner.”

Stukel said a new system will be implemented in three or four weeks to provide the assessors with the information they need.

“Move this as quickly as you can. This is crucial,” county board chairman Jim Moustis, R-Frankfort Township, told Stukel, noting that setting property assessments is “extremely labor intensive” work and most townships don’t have the staff or budget to do this. “Hopefully this will not occur in the future.”

Board member Chuck Maher, R-Naperville, asked Stukel to determine whether the assessors could access her old software, which he said should have been backed up. She said she would check with the county’s IT staff

Kral said the assessors will determine property values by July 1 “to the best of our ability. The proof of the pudding (assessment accuracy) will come during the appeal season.”

slafferty@tribpub.com

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