Township assessors eliminated in Knox County

by Mike Kroll

Knox County Supervisor of Assessment Joyce Skinner has accomplished a pretty significant political feat and done so largely without public notice. In December Skinner received a letter from the Illinois Department of Revenue certifying the establishment of two multi-township assessment districts covering all of Knox County excepting the city of Galesburg. Beginning January 1, 2006 there will be just three township assessors responsible for all of Knox County compared to eight assessors today.

Like all Illinois counties, Knox County is divided into townships, 21 to be exact. Excepting the City of Galesburg Township that is approximately coterminous with the city boundaries the remaining townships are essentially rural in nature and sparse in population. Only three townships can boast of population over 1,700 yet not too long ago each and every township elected its own assessor. Typically these were part-time assessors and frequently their qualifications for the job were questionable. In recent years it has become common for two or more townships to join together to form multi-township assessment districts.

When Skinner was first hired to replace Doug Rossio one of her stated goals was to seek modernization of professionalization of township assessors within Knox County. Standing alone or in small districts it wasn’t possible to pay a competitive salary to assessors or assure taxpayers of fair and uniform assessments across the county. Only the City of Galesburg Township could boast of a fully professional staff. Skinner envisioned a plan where the eight townships north of Galesburg plus Persifer and Truro townships would compose the "North District" while the remaining ten townships made up the "South District."

"A few years ago the state required that a township have a population of over 1,000 to have its own assessor," explained Skinner. "Smaller townships were required to join together to form multi-township assessment districts to elect or hire an assessor. In most cases the number of parcels in these townships is small and the pay not too much. To become an assessor you had to be elected and meet certification standards. As recently as the 2001 election saw six townships having no one run for assessor."

Skinner convinced the 20 township boards to pass a resolution supporting establishment of the new large districts. Together these townships will need to establish a salary (Skinner guesstimates between $30-40,000 per year) and budget as well as provide office space and fund at least on additional full-time staff person before the 2005 election cycle. To qualify for the ballot potential candidates for assessor must obtain a certified Illinois assessing officer designation by completing required coursework.

"As of right now it isn’t practical but ideally I would love to have these other two assessors and their staff share the county office," noted Skinner. "That way they can make efficient use of the computerized database and work closely with my staff. I’m just not sure that available space will ever permit such an arrangement."

The opportunity to make such a change only occurs following each census and it is amazing how few Illinois counties went to the trouble to establish assessment districts like Skinner. Finding qualified candidates to run for township assessor has become a significant problem and some of the sizable multipliers that have been applied to some property tax bills highlight the wide disparity in skill level across existing assessors. Skinner is confident that this change will result in more accurate and thus fairer property assessment across the entire county.