RF Assessor gets bucks, trustees get headache

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By BILL DWYER

The River Forest Township Assessor received a major increase in her modest budget last week. But it left neither the givers, the township board of trustees, nor the receiver, Assessor Rogue Weiland, happy or content.

Last Thursday's township board meeting was intended to finalize the 2005-06 budget. But it was book-ended by continuing contentiousness between the board and the assessor. Following two and a half hours of public comment and board debate that was equal parts annoyance, frustration and weariness, Assessor Weiland's office received a 27.5 percent budget increase to $17,720, more than the township board had originally intended to give, but less than Weiland had requested.

The resolution appeared to satisfy no one. Not Weiland, who said she feels the board has been unfairly singling her out during the budget process. And certainly not the five person township board, whose members repeatedly expressed their frustration that Weiland didn't seem to feel a need to address her intentions to the board in a timely fashion, nor effectively submit to their supervision.

Weiland, whose term of office expires in six months, read a prepared statement to the trustees Thursday in which she repeated her contention that she has been singled out.

"I do feel that there has been a double standard here, and I would like to know why the trustees have not questioned some of the other budgets in the township that far exceed the assessor's budget," she said.

Weiland said that her proposed 2005-06 assessor's budget of $18,927 has been met with "a barrage of questions on a (budget) item that represents less than three-tenths of one percent of the township budget.

Trustees Mary O'Brien and Anna Marie Romeo took the lead in confronting and responding to Weiland's accusations.

"I don't believe as a trustee I should explain to anyone why I am asking you about a (budget) increase," Romeo said, clearly annoyed. Both trustees noted that Weiland's projected and actual budgets have been historically disparate?#34;for example, her 2003-04 proposed budget was $14,800, with $10,900 spent, and her 2004-05 budget $15,800, with only $13,900 spent.

"Given this track record, I feel I have the right to ask you about a given line item," Romeo said.

O'Brien added, "Just because (a line item is) small doesn't mean it's insignificant."

Weiland responded that she understood, but said that she felt it was "inappropriate to approach me as you did."

Initially Weiland's request was cut from $18,927 to $14,827, a small increase over last year's budgeted $13,900.

"I would feel remiss approving an expenditure for $3,300 I have not a clue about," said Romeo, referring to a new computer system.

When the first figure was announced, one Weiland supporter angrily blurted out that the trustee's were being "totally arbitrary," and stomped out of the room.

However, after Weiland noted that she had already had the new $2,000 to $2,500 computer program installed, Romeo changed her motion, moving to budget $16,927"It would have been nice if someone would have come to us and said 'We've bought it already,'" she told Weiland.

Weiland, as well as several other individuals testifying during public comment, said she is pleased with the new computer system, which she said "has helped us process more than 200 appeals to date," with the reassessment period still open.

That, responded several trustees, was not the issue. At issue, they said, was Weiland's cooperation with their attempts to supervise and scrutinize her budget request.

"I repeat, no one is questioning the quality of the assessor's job," said O'Brien. "The concern is the percentage of increase, and that the actual expenditures are rarely near the budgeted amount.

That increase came with several riders. The assessor, Romeo insisted, must keep a log of her monthly activities and that of her clerical help, and must present a report detailing those activities to the board, either in person or through a representative. In addition, the board is now requiring the assessor's office to engage in a "continual dialogue" with the board.

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