Champaign County still prevents online name searches of property records, differing from most Illinois counties. Now it plans to limit searching mobile home properties.

You are currently viewing Champaign County still prevents online name searches of property records, differing from most Illinois counties. Now it plans to limit searching mobile home properties.Darrell Hoemann
Brookens Admin Center in Urbana, IL 61801 on Wednesday, December 15, 2021. Photo by Darrell Hoemann/CU-CitizenAccess

In 2018, Champaign County had the chance to allow the public to search property records on its website by an owner’s name when it adopted new software used by many other counties in the state.

It allowed it for some time — then eliminated the option, unlike nearly every other county in Illinois that did permit the public to search public property tax records by an owner’s first and last name.

This decision, made amidst the rollout of the electronic tax system DEVNET, drew attention as CU-CitizenAccess previously reported other county assessors using the same system said the option enhanced service quality by retaining the name search feature and also saved the assessors time spent answering questions.

In its continuing efforts to limit searches by names, the county treasurer said the feature to search by name on the mobile home section of the Champaign County Property Tax Inquiry website will probably be eliminated.

County Treasurer Cassandra Johnson recently said she was unaware the feature was available when asked why the public could search by owner’s name for mobile home records, but not for other records. She said that it is “likely” to be changed. The name search feature for mobile homes has been available since early 2022.

Johnson also said she supports her predecessor Dan Welch’s decision to remove the name search for all properties, citing concerns about individuals with “capitalist ventures” using it to target specific groups, such as the elderly. She did not name these individuals, although an individual with sufficient financial resources could purchase the information. In addition, the entire county property database can be acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request.

When questioned about why the county doesn’t allow an individual to search by a property’s owner name — public information available on all tax records — when most other counties do allow it, Johnson responded: 

“Other counties are doing it … people are jumping off roofs. Should we do that too?” Johnson said.

However, property tax information on mobile homes stood out as an exception to this rule this year. Now, its owner name search feature is on the chopping block.

A screenshot of the mobile home search section of the Champaign County Property Tax Inquiry tool on Dec. 21, 2023.

Initially, the name search feature was available in the new system for all property taxes. But in 2019, an email to CU-CitizenAccess from Andy Rhodes, an information technology employee for the county, said that the treasurer and assessor had requested its removal. 

Johnson said the removal was not aimed at protecting public officials.      

“Right now, none of the politicians in Champaign County have their information redacted,” she said. “There are three people with their information redacted, and none of them are county officials.” She did not say who those three people are.

Regarding mobile homes, Johnson explains that it was an oversight. 

“It just wasn’t brought to light as an issue. And that’s the only reason why it’s not listed,” Johnson said. She said now that it has been brought to her attention, the policy will likely be changed to include mobile homes.

The DEVNET contract, initiated in December 2018, has cost taxpayers $427,045 over five years, with the program itself costing $80,000.

In contrast, other counties, such as Madison and Cunningham, spoke positively about the advantages of allowing name searches. Douglas County Assessor Cynthia Baer emphasized the ease and efficiency of searching by name, while Madison County’s Assessor, Denise Shores, highlighted how transparency and accessibility improved service quality.

“There is no reason for us to be secretive. You can Google a name and find an address. If security is an issue, it has already been breached when you step foot on the internet,” Shores said.

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