Opinion

SOUNDOFF: How to improve the treasurer's office

I would like congratulate Maxine Sauter on winning the primary race for Island County Treasurer. I would also like to offer my heartfelt thanks to the many people who provided substantial support to me during my campaign and to the thousands of people who expressed their confidence in me by giving me their vote. It is a most humbling experience.

During the primary campaign the focus has been on fixing the immediate problems in the treasurer’s office. These include improving taxpayer confidence in the office by implementing the controls recommended by the state auditor; stemming the excessive employee turnover; and improving the coordination between the treasurer and other Island County government offices. These are of course still vitally important and hopefully will be addressed by whomever is the next treasurer.

I would like to go beyond the immediate future, though, and outline three initiatives that I believe are important for the next treasurer to get underway. These are:

1. Use a bank depository or lock box for the receipt of tax payments. Currently tax payments come directly into the treasurer’s office, creating a large temporary workload and delaying putting the money to work earning interest for the county. A bank depository can use automated equipment the county cannot afford to quickly process the tax payments and get the money to work sooner. This not only smooths out the workload and helps absorb the latest staffing reduction, but it also will earn the county more money. The Snohomish County treasurer’s office is currently doing this.

2. Place the treasurer’s office online on the Internet for two purposes: First, to allow taxpayers to review and pay their taxes with either credit cards or “internet checks.” Second, to allow the smaller taxing districts including schools, fire districts, and water districts to quickly see the status of their funds, including what warrants are outstanding and their current balance. The treasurer serves as a bank for all of these districts. Warrants, equivalent to checks, are written by the taxing districts and are cleared through the treasurer’s office. Placing the treasurer’s office online will allow these districts to immediately see their transactions over the Internet, as most banks have done. Very secure means to do this are available and in use today. The Snohomish County Treasurer’s office is in the process of implementing this.

3. Use a single cash management system for the entire county. Currently the treasurer, the auditor, and several other departments independently handle and account for cash receipts. Since the auditor is the accountant for the county and maintains the county’s books, that office must re-enter all cash transaction that have already been entered by the treasurer’s office or other departments. This is a waste of time and manpower and slows the ability of the county to know its cash status. Adequate checks and balances can be maintained in such a system. Also, the treasurer can still report on a cash basis, while the auditor reports on an accrual basis, since the same transactions are used for both purposes.

During the campaign I discussed these initiatives with Island County and Washington state officials, as well as with other treasurer’s offices. All three initiatives are doable today and are either in-place or in-work in other counties. I believe that these initiatives would begin the process of updating the treasurer’s office, while improving the efficiency and productivity there, as well as other county offices and the smaller taxing districts. This is the objective of the majority of all taxpayers and it is my hope that it will be honored and implemented by the next treasurer. I believe that this is the future and it will not be long before these initiatives become the standard way of doing business with county treasurers.

Freeland resident Marty Matthews lost the Republican primary election to Maxine Sauter.

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