University graduate challenges 20-year incumbent in Champaign elections

It has been 20 years since voters in Champaign have seen any name other than Brian Christie’s on the ballot for the city’s assessor. Today, there will be another option: a 23-year-old University graduate is challenging the 20-year-incumbent for assessor.

The assessor’s job is to determine property values, which play a part in determining how much property taxes owners pay. Democrat Wayne Williams, who graduated from the University in August 2008 with a degree in accountancy, said he decided to run for the position after seeing a July 2007 article in The News-Gazette about unfair assessments.

The News-Gazette then reported on the story after Debby Auble, who owns Ward & Associates, a real estate company, said she brought the situation to the Champaign City Council’s attention. She said she noticed a trend in which properties were being inaccurately valued.

“It became apparent that there was a pattern that the high-end homes in the community were really grossly under-assessed,” Auble said. “The more modest and middle-income homes were grossly over-assessed.”

She said that while average property values for the city as a whole remain accurate, there are outliers at both ends.

“The same (neighborhoods) are overassessed year in and year out, where the high-end jet-set people are getting a break because they’re grossly under-assessed,” she said.

Williams said Christie, the incumbent, has not been active enough in correcting the issues.

“These allegations came up, but then, our assessor has just been really passive,” he said. “There are statistics that show the bias in the system, and to just stand idly by about that is not acceptable to me. It’s not acceptable to the people I’ve met on the campaign trail.”

Christie could not be reached to comment.

Students should not think they are unaffected by the assessor’s office, Auble said. Landlords pass property taxes onto those renting apartments and houses.

Williams said people may be looking to have their homes re-assessed in order to save money, a process he said not enough people are familiar with.

“It’s not like it’s a Democratic issue or a Republican issue,” he said. “People don’t want to pay any more than they’re supposed to, especially now.”

Jennifer Putman, Williams’ campaign manager, said the people who were angered by the inequities will now have a chance to do something about it.

She also acknowledged that the campaign is an “uphill battle” for Williams. One of the biggest blows, she said, came when The News-Gazette decided to endorse Christie for the position.

“I thought it was very odd that The News-Gazette, after they themselves had brought to the pubic eye the inequitable assessments, they endorsed (Christie) to do the same,” she said.

In response to claims about his lack of experience, Williams said that while he has never served in the office before, he had to take coursework to become qualified to fill the position as a Certified Illinois Assessing Officer.

Putman, who served as deputy Cunningham Township assessor for eight years, said she feels confident that Williams can do the job, even if some remain skeptical of his lack of experience.

Williams said campaigning has been a long and difficult process.

“It’s really hard in this case because I’m facing the 20-year incumbent,” he said. “But I also have to remind people he hasn’t had an opponent in 20 years.”