MOUNT VERNON — The simplest way to look at the office of county treasurer is that the treasurer is the county’s banker.
The treasurer collects the county’s money — its taxes — and invests the money in safe vehicles to earn extra money for the county. The treasurer pays out money when presented with warrants issued by the county auditor. Lake County Treasurer John Crocker puts it simply on his website: “The treasurer is the cash manager of the county, operating in a manner similar to a banker.”
The treasurer serves a four-year term and in Knox County is paid $53,214. The salary is set by the state based on the population of the county in the last census. The budget for the treasurer’s office is $158,697 and there are three full-time staff in the Knox County office.
“I also hire two part-time temporary employees during the January and June tax seasons. I have a huge amount of mail to go through,” current Knox County Treasurer Sandra Mizer said.
Staff members are hired and fired by the treasurer.
The term of the treasurer is one of the quirks in Ohio election law. The term does not begin in January following the November election. Instead, the term begins in September.
There are no specific qualifications to run for treasurer, but before a treasurer can take office, he or she must complete a training course required by state law for all treasurers.
“I had 10 months after being elected to complete the course, I think it was 13 or 14 credit hours,” Mizer said. “Treasurers are also required to take continuing education courses while they are in office.”
Of course, over the years, the treasurer’s office has become more than just a clerk counting the money that goes in and out. The description of the office on the Fairfield County treasurer’s website notes: “Today’s treasurer serves as the county’s chief investment officer, the administrator of sophisticated delinquent tax collection programs and the keeper of property tax escrow accounts. As a result, those that hold the position must be individuals who are highly trained in investment, cash management and financial planning strategies to properly manage and safeguard local funds.”
The treasurer cannot take chances with the county investments. Eligible investments include: Government backed securities, collateralized certificate of deposits and other safe instruments as provided for in Chapter 135 of the Ohio Revised Code. Safety, liquidity and earning a market rate of return on the county’s money are primary responsibilities of the treasurer.
The treasurer collects local taxes, particularly real property and personal property taxes. Treasurers are also responsible for collecting taxes on manufactured homes, inheritance, hotel-motel and special assessments.
Taxes collected are not just those for county operations. The treasurer also collects the taxes levied in other political subdivisions of the county, including schools, townships, villages and various agencies, such as Developmental Disabilities or senior citizens. Assessments from other entities, such as the assessment recently enacted by the multi-county Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, are also collected by the treasurer and passed on to the agency.
“When I took office, property tax statements went out as a lump sum. Now we have a break-down on the statement, showing how much you pay for each tax,” Mizer said.
Receipts are collected over the counter by cashiers, through the mail, over the Internet, through other agencies, electronically, in cash or by check and then deposited into the county’s accounts.
Paying by credit card is an option, but not in the office and it will cost an extra three percent to cover the credit card company’s fees.
Mizer explained that they once took card payments in the office, but when First-Knox National Bank (and its parent, Park National Bank) farmed its credit card business out to a third party, the new company insisted on charging the three percent fee, so the card-swiper was taken out of the office. A taxpayer can still pay with a credit card, either on-line or by telephone, but it will cost an extra three percent.
The treasurer works closely with all the elected county officials, but especially the auditor.
“We even use the same budget and real estate programs,” Mizer said.
Her office also shares a website with the auditor and since you can see all the tax information there, she doesn’t see the need for the additional expense of maintaining a second website.
Mizer said she also works closely with the commissioners, laughing that “after all, they control my budget.”
On a more serious note, she said she has been able to work closely with all the other elected officials because “We’re all determined to do what’s best for the county.”
She said the commissioners, of course, want her to maximize the return on investments, but since the president of the commissioners also serves on the investment board they know how difficult that is today. She also works with the commissioners on the Board of Revisions, which hears appeals from property owners about the valuations of their property.