>Tax collection will be moved under the elected assessor
July 9, 2003 — The Jefferson County Commission voted Thursday to reorganize the way taxes are collected and distributed, reducing the scope of the treasurer's office by moving some duties under the supervision of the elected tax assessor.
In two 2-1 votes, the commission first moved the tax collection duties under the assessor, then during a second motion redefined the treasurer position to oversee revenue collection and maintain its statutory duties. Commissioner Mary Zemke cast "no" votes on both motions.
The treasurer's office, which over the past several years has consisted of three full-time employees with occasional part-time help, now will be reduced to one full-time treasurer with the possibility of a part-time assistant.
The treasurer will remain an elected position. Former Treasurer Bonnie Namenuk retired in May, and the commission will begin entertaining applications from individuals interested in serving the remaining two years of her four-year term.
Two additional motions, both adopted unanimously, call for a study to set an appropriate salary for the revised treasurer position with any savings redistributed to bring county employees working under reduced hours back up to a 40-hour work week.
"I want the community to get its money's worth and I want the community's wealth to be safe and I want to be efficient as we can," Commission Chairman Walt Ponsford said.
Zemke had proposed keeping tax collection — an appointed duty — in the treasurer's office and reducing its staff by one employee. As part of that scenario, she suggested the county consider cross-training three "floaters" to work between departments.
"If we had three cross-trained employees we wouldn't need seasonal help," Zemke said.
The three commissioners agreed to keep Zemke's floater proposal open for further discussion.
The final decision was reached after two hours of testimony that at times was thick with tension.
The commissioners first heard comments on a range of different scenarios from officials with the state Department of Revenue and Clackamas and Klamath counties.
During deliberations, Commissioner Bill Bellamy concluded that there was no definitive model.
"The interesting thing is that every county combines the functions of budget officer, finance director, revenue collector, tax collector and the purchasing of supplies differently," Bellamy said.
The commission heard testimony from Camp Sherman resident Toni Foster, who said the process surrounding previous treasurer discussions and other events was causing her to lose "trust and confidence in the working of county government" (see related story, page 6).
Jefferson County Assessor Patsy Hurn followed, delivering fiery testimony. She said previous objections to reorganizing the treasurer's office were misdirected concerns "attached to an issue that is simply about efficiency and effectiveness."
"I have heard so much misinformation, half-truths, downright lies and emotional scaremongering bandied about that I can't keep quiet anymore," Hurn said.
Hurn said taxpayers deserved a "one-stop source" to make their payments and ask questions regarding how their taxes are assessed and collected.
"I have watched my and your tax money poured down the drain to support a staff of three to four people for a job that requires less than two," Hurn told the commissioners.
"It is obvious to everyone that works close to this office that they are over-staffed," she continued. "One of the current employees in the tax office recently told me that this is the first job she's ever had where she was asked to slow down."
Deena Goss, the former chief treasurer's deputy who assumed Namenuk's job in an interim capacity two months ago, read a list of the treasurer's responsibilities, telling the commissioners the job would keep her "100 percent busy" if given the opportunity.
Bellamy praised Goss for working with the assessor's office, and noted that historical hostilities between the treasurer and assessor should come to an end under the remodel.
In deliberations, Bellamy and Ponsford also touched on the topic of "checks and balances," a term several citizens had used to in earlier hearings to lobby against reorganizing the treasurer's office.
"We can devise more checks and balances if we think it's necessary," Bellamy said. "The department of revenue is very good at training and very good at assisting and implementing a system when you decide that's what you decide to do."
Ponsford suggested some fears concerning checks and balances being compromised were based on a false notion that County Administrator Mike Morgan was pushing for a reorganization to strengthen his power.
Morgan was not present at Thursday's meeting.
"Mike has had little to do with this," Ponsford said. "I want to go on the record with that because the feeling that he is trying to grab power is nonsense. It's simply not true."