LWV distributes questionnaire for county treasurer candidates
The League of Women Voters (LWV) of the Stevens Point Area recently distributed a questionnaire of four questions to Tom Mallison, Democrat, and Jeff Presley, Independent. The two candidates are competing for the Portage County treasurer position up for election Tuesday, Nov. 8.
The questions and candidates’ answers, in alphabetical order by last name, are as follows:
What are the duties of the Portage County treasurer? What qualifies you to hold this office?
Mallison: Some of the basic responsibilities of the County Treasurer’s Office include collection of current and delinquent taxes; balancing of accounts; disbursement of county monies; secure investment of funds held by the county treasury for maximum interest as allowed; and maintaining accurate and up-to-date tax records for archive and open records requests. A more in-depth list of the responsibilities of the county treasurer’s office may be found in state statutes.
Along with my many years of government service, I have also earned an associate’s degree in accounting with work experience of managing no less than 30 individuals in cash management/point of sales.
I am also experienced in working with a similar enterprise resource planning (ERP) computer system to what the county is currently using. My governmental background includes being a former city of Stevens Point alderperson and a current Portage County Board supervisor currently serving a fifth term.
Current and former leadership positions include chair of Portage County Housing Authority and Portage County Healthcare Center Committee; vice-chair Portage County Human Resources Committee, Portage County Space & Properties Committee, Portage County EMS Oversight Committee; Portage County Solid Waste Board member, Stevens Point Board of Public Works member and Stevens Point Finance Committee member.
Presley: The Portage County treasurer is responsible for the receipt and disbursement of county money, maintaining accurate financial records, producing and printing tax bills, collection of postponed and delinquent real estate taxes, and maintaining accurate records of all tax collection. The position is primarily defined by state statutes and county ordinances.
My unique life experiences make me the more qualified candidate. I have more than 10 years of retail management experience with the number one drug retailer in the United States. I was responsible for the day-to-day operations of multi-million dollar units with up to 50 employees.
The responsibilities included cash management, human relation functions, budgeting and forecasting and record keeping. For the past 16 years, I have been a claims adjuster who has practiced the meaning of fiduciary responsibility while working in one of the most regulated industry in the United States.
As an adjuster, I have had to navigate state statutes, manage expenses, maintain accurate claim notes, seek collection of money owed, resolved or denied claims while holding licenses that require ongoing education.
Add the above work experience with six years of service as a Portage County supervisor, five years as a Stevens Point Area School District board member and a member of the Sentry Credit Union Board of Directors. While on these various boards, I have held the position of president, vice president, treasurer and clerk.
I am running as an independent so that I will not owe allegiance to any party. I am not soliciting money for my campaign, asking people to put signs up or seeking endorsements. The county treasurer needs to take the fiduciary responsibility seriously and remove any opportunity of perceived favoritism away including seeking endorsements from county supervisors who would sit in judgement of me if I did not do the job properly.
Unlike my competitor who has done all of the above, I believe that the county treasurer should maintain a clear line of separation that allows them to effectively carry out their duties.
When a property owner is in arrears, what is the procedure to collect those taxes?
Mallison: Interest is added to the tax bill; interest accrues until the taxes are paid in full or the property is taken through the Tax Deed process. I would be open to mailing a courtesy reminder notice if taxes are delinquent. The treasurer’s office can also submit a list of delinquent taxpayers to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue to intercept tax refunds for payment against delinquent taxes.
On the subject of the payment of back taxes, the observation of the Baker Tilly Portage County Operational Audit of the Office of the Treasurer 2013 showed: “There is inconsistency in the process for allowing payment of back taxes. Constituents are provided opportunities for payment plans of back taxes on an ad hoc basis. Individuals are only made aware of the opportunity if directly contacted by the Office of the Treasury. There is no documented policy or procedure to allow people to pay back taxes in installments.”
As treasurer, I would ensure that all Portage County taxpayers are treated the same and that all Portage County taxpayers are made aware of what the options are for payment of their taxes.
Presley: The process is outlined in state statutes and county ordinances. It is the fiduciary responsibility of the county treasurer to follow those procedures to ensure that either payment is made or money is recovered. The state gives you two years for a redemption period. The county gives you an additional year. A tax certificate is issued annually Sept. 1 for all properties that have unpaid current year taxes. This is registered with the county clerk.
A special procedure called an “in rem” foreclosure is utilized for the next stage. The county files a petition with the court listing the tax-delinquent property that will be foreclosed. It will be published in the newspaper. If the county proves its case, the court will issue a judgement of foreclosure.
Is the problem of delinquent taxes a large one for Portage County? If so, how do you deal with it?
Mallison: In my experience on the Portage County Space and Properties Committee, while the majority of taxpayers make their tax payments on time, delinquent taxes are a problem for Portage County.
When the county has to tax deed a property, it is not only a hardship for the property owner, but also for the county. Considerable time is spent contacting the delinquent property taxpayer, county staff and county board time touring the property, and deciding on a course of action regarding the property.
There are many factors that need to be taken into consideration, such as the condition of the buildings/property and if there is environmental damage that will lead to remediation costs. Eventually the tax-deeded property will need to be advertised for sale and potentially listed with a Realtor. Obviously there is a cost of all of this effort to return the tax-deeded property to the tax rolls.
A county treasurer should handle this issue by following state statutes as the county is an arm of the state. As previously stated, reminders of delinquency, garnishment of income via state income tax returns and other legal avenues should be utilized as appropriate.
The Foundation for Rural Housing is a statewide nonprofit organization that may be able to provide assistance with delinquent taxes if income requirements are met and taxes have been delinquent for at least two years. When elected Portage County treasurer, I would explore any state or federal programs to assist Portage County residents with delinquent taxes.
Presley: Given that the current delinquent taxes are approximately $6.3 million, I would define it as a problem especially when you consider that the current tax levy is about $27 million. The best way to deal with it is to follow the state statutes and county ordinances that are already in place. It is the responsibility of the treasurer not to play politics but to just do the job. That job includes being able to follow through on the foreclosure of property in an effort to recovery taxes that are owed.
What is the relationship of the office of the Portage County treasurer with the county’s Finance Department? How do they work together?
Mallison: The relationship between the Portage County Treasurer’s Office and the county’s Finance Department should be a relationship of checks and balances. The treasury deals with all payments that come into Portage County and issues all cash disbursements leaving the county, while the Finance Department deals with more of the accounting duties of the county.
In the beginning of 2016, there were personnel changes in Portage County that altered the bookkeeping position that was under the Treasurer’s Department to treasury management position that now is under the Finance Department.
This change happened due to multiple factors. One factor that showed the need for this change was a lack of accounting and finance knowledge inside the office of the Portage County treasurer. Another reason was to increase the checks and balances making it possible for only one department to physically handle and distribute funds.
I believe these recent changes have led to finger pointing when any issues arise. I have already begun talks with both the Finance Committee chairman and the County Board chairman in regards to a memorandum of understanding between the offices of finance and the treasury to ensure both Portage County employees and officials, as well as the citizens of Portage County, understand what duties each office are responsible for in the event of any issues that may arise.
Presley: The best analogy is that the county treasurer is the gatekeeper of the money while the Finance Department is the lock on the gate. The Finance Department is the checks and balances to the actions taken by the county treasurer office. They should work together in a partnership towards the common goal of ensuring that the collection and disbursement of county dollars follows state statutes, county ordinances and the direction passed by the county board.