Under the Radar: Assessor post left unfilled

Official agrees to resign; Palmrya looks to save money

Published: Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

DIXON – Officials in Palmyra Township were unhappy with the work of their assessor. And they wanted to save money.

Now, they’re getting their wish.

In July, they persuaded the Lee County state’s attorney to file a misdemeanor charge of neglecting duty against the township’s longtime assessor, Heidi Granskog.

Granskog hired an attorney to defend herself, but in September, she signed an agreement in which she would resign her position and give up all of her township documents. It was a little more than 3 months before the end of her term.

Months ago, County Assessor Wendy Ryerson informed Palmyra Supervisor Vern Gottel and other township officials that Granskog wasn’t doing her job. 

Townships are in charge of assessing properties to determine their values for the purpose of property taxes. Smaller townships often combine with others for that function, but Palmyra, one of Lee County’s largest townships, has gone it alone. 

“The board talked with Heidi and reminded her what her elected position was for and the timeline to get that work done,” Gottel said. “We were between a rock and a hard place. Wendy was wringing her hands to get the work completed. [Heidi] did a portion of the work, but not enough to complete it.”

Every 4 years, Lee County townships reassess every property. For Palmyra, that project was this year. 

‘I hadn’t gone anywhere’

Granskog, who is in her 50s, has been with the township for more than two decades. She believes she got a raw deal when the state’s attorney went to court.

She said she doesn’t want to give the township a bad name, but contended that its officials didn’t treat her very well in the process.

“I’m glad it’s over,” Granskog said. “I had to get a lawyer, which I have never done before.”

On Sept. 26, she signed the agreement in court to resign from office, she said. 

Before the state’s attorney went to court, Granskog said, Gottel approached her about a resignation agreement.

“I disagree that I didn’t do my duties,” she said. “I turned down the agreement. They wanted to keep everything really quiet.”

Granskog blamed Ryerson for creating the trouble.

“She thought I had walked off, but I hadn’t gone anywhere,” Granskog said. “It was ridiculous that she said that.”

Ryerson, though, said she simply wanted to get the work done so the county could send out assessment notices on time.

Now, Palmyra Township has a new way to handle assessments – pay the county assessor’s office to do the work.

And preliminary numbers show that the township could save $9,000 to $10,000 a year doing so, Gottel said. 

During Granskog’s last years, the assessment office cost about $15,000 a year, with about $14,000 going toward her salary, Gottel said.

Now, the county is working with Ryerson on a contract for the county to provide the services. Estimates now are that it will cost the township $4,000 in a typical year and $10,000 to $12,000 during a quadrennial reassessment year.

No one ran for assessor in April’s election. That happens a lot for township assessor positions, which require upfront training estimated to cost $1,500 to $2,000. 

But what probably made the position particularly unappealing in Palmyra was that the board voted to drop the salary to $1,000 a year. That was meant to deter candidates from running, so the township, which is between Dixon and Sterling, could get the county assessor’s office to assume the township’s assessing function.

This could be a long-term solution for Palmyra, Gottel said. 

In eastern Lee County, a group of townships – Alto, Viola, Willow Creek and Reynolds – have shared an assessor, but is without one now. They, too, are negotiating for the county to handle assessments.

Ryerson said she is getting “mixed signals” on whether the four townships want the arrangement long term.

Such arrangements have pros and cons, she said. For instance, she said, county assessor employees don’t live in the four townships, so they won’t see new construction there. She’ll urge township officials to alert her office about changes.

On the plus side, she said, such arrangements end duplication. As it is, townships and the county maintain property cards. But when the county is in charge, only one agency is the custodian.

‘Wait until the next election’

It’s not unusual for townships to need help with assessments, said Jerry Crabtree, associate director of the Township Officials of Illinois, which promotes townships.

Some get help from their county governments, but he hasn’t seen an increase in those kinds of cases since he joined his organization nearly a decade ago, he said.

“No elected official can be forced out of office,” he said. 

Still, he said, his organization gets plenty of questions about how to oust officials.

“I tell them to wait until the next election.”

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