DeKalb County treasurer candidates talk process, property tax education

October 17, 2018

DeKALB – Procedural improvements, public education and customer service were the main topics of conversation between a longtime veteran of the DeKalb County Treasurer’s Office and a new political arrival.

County treasurer candidates Liliana Orozco and incumbent Christine Johnson spoke with the Daily Chronicle Editorial Board on Tuesday about what they would do if they were elected to the office.

Johnson, a Republican and Shabbona resident, said she has been in the office 22 years and has a track record of helping people stay informed, even when they might not know what questions to ask about taxes.

During her time in office, Johnson said, the office has implemented procedural and security processes and technological improvements, which have included allowing credit card payments online and in person and putting assessment information online. She said that innovation would continue, especially with recent discussions about the county revamping its website.

“So my experience, I think, will be the thing that I want to hang my hat on,” Johnson said.

Orozco, a Democrat and Sycamore resident, said she graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial engineering from the Milwaukee School of Engineering and is finishing up her master’s degree in supply chain management and logistics from Michigan State University. She said she has worked in assembly and manufacturing environments with both non-union and union employees, and that her background has given her an extensive knowledge in improving processes and looking at the big picture or smaller details.

“I would bring this knowledge and different perspective to the office to be able to improve their processes and keep building on the successes of Christine Johnson, who has made many, many great improvements,” Orozco said. “I just want to take it to another level, a different level moving forward, to be able to keep competing and keep rising and thriving, as we should all be striving to do.”

Orozco, running for public office for the first time, said despite her education making her qualified for lucrative careers in science, she was compelled to run for office because she has a deep need to serve people and her community.

She said she sees opportunities in expanding upon the public education aspect of the county treasurer’s office. She said one of her ideas includes providing information on percent change from the previous year to current year of the property tax rate on residents’ bills.

“Because it’s currently in decimal form, and a lot of people aren’t able to see a large jump in the rate in the way that it’s currently formatted,” Orozco said.

Orozco said she also will use her business relationships within the county to help create educational opportunities and work for residents so they can afford homes and collect property taxes. She said she sees an opportunity to help create work programs with Kishwaukee College and Northern Illinois University and create labor forces that will attract other companies to the area so that the treasurer’s office is not siloed.

“They have a need for labor, and we have a need for work, and hopefully with this work we will be able to create financial benefits for our residents and be able to have more people that can afford homes and thus increase our tax revenue,” Orozco said.

Johnson said the office spends a lot of time working with the public at the counter or over the phone. She said her staff makes every effort to make sure residents know how their property tax bill is calculated, how much their bill is and what options they may have to pay their bill.

Johnson said her four staff members also are knowledgeable and able to point people in the right direction outside of the treasurer’s office if need be. She said it’s important for the public to have access to that kind of information because understanding assessments, exemptions and taxes can get complicated.

“We try to do it in a multitude of ways so that, regardless of what your skill is with technology, you can always find out that information one way or another,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the area that the office has gotten the most feedback about is people being concerned about high property taxes.

Unfortunately, she said, that’s a fact of life in Illinois because the funding mechanism for education needs work and the state isn’t funding education as much as it should, which means 60 percent of property taxes are going to public schools, and the burden ultimately falls back onto local property taxpayers.

“So we make every effort when we talk to citizens, when they call us and say, ‘My bill is really high, is there anything you can do to help us?’ We try to guide them through [and say], ‘Let’s look and see if you have your exemptions,’ ” Johnson said.

Orozco said she also is no stranger to customer service and will be able to handle those difficult conversations with homeowners who might be upset about their property taxes. She said she is comfortable with helping people in those types of situations, and the key is to really listen to people when they share those concerns.

“All people really want is to be heard and to know that their concerns are valid, and that they’re being acted upon,” Orozco said.