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Treasurer's office gets clean bill of health

For years the Washington State Auditor’s Office found that the Island County Treasurer’s Office had not kept a good handle on taxpayer money.

Auditors in 2002 found the county office had a faulty cash handling system and that it lacked controls over property tax adjustments.

Those two findings were unresolved from an audit conducted in 2000. And there were other findings before that.

Finally, the state auditor’s office has cleared the treasurer’s office of those findings, according to a report issued last week.

Island County Treasurer Linda Riffe said this is the first time in eight years that the treasurer’s office received a clean report.

“My first year has been mainly spent cleaning up from previous years,” Riffe said. She took over as county treasurer shortly after she was elected in November 2002. She was sworn in early after her predecessor, Maxine Sauter, died in office before Riffe’s term was to begin.

To resolve the audit issues, Riffe implemented some basic security measures on the cash systems. Any property tax receiveable adjustments are personally checked by the treasurer, Riffe said.

She found that the office sometimes couldn’t get accurate financial information.

As a result of one error, the county had to pay various taxing districts a combined $1.2 million last March. The payout resulted from a glitch in the county’s software system.

“The office was frankly in a terrible mess,” Riffe said.

To help get a handle on the issues facing the treasurer’s office, Riffe asked state auditors come in and perform a special audit at a cost of $11,000.

“She’s done the things that need to be done and she’s made significant progress,” Island County Commissioner Bill Byrd said of Riffe’s efforts, noting that some necessary personnel changes were also made.

More changes are in store, according to Riffe. Last September, the county hired a computer programmer who is writing new software for the county’s tax system. In the near future, property owners should see a bar code on their tax bill. Riffe said that will help speed up the processing of tax bills.

In the next year or two, Riffe wants her office to begin accepting credit card payments for taxes, as many people have requested.

She also wants a Web site developed to help disseminate treasurer’s office information.

You can reach News-Times reporter Nathan Whalen at nwhalen@whidbeynewstimes

.com or 675-6611.

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