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BREAKING NEWS

Meet the county auditor candidates

By Staff | Oct 16, 2008

Today, the Estherville Daily News proudly presents its first of five installments of the annual Question-and-Answer for the General Election.

To be fair to every candidate, answers are being published in order received.

Part one focuses on the Emmet County Auditor’s Race. Candidates submitting answers are Mikki Erickson and Tammy Lair.

Q. What is the first action you plan on taking as Emmet County Auditor?

Lair: January is definitely a busy month for any county auditor because of the preparation of the next county budget. Therefore, my first action would be to completely familiarize myself with the day-to-day routine of the auditor’s office and the preparation of the new county budget. This preparation would require much work with the deputy auditors, other departments and their budgets, and the board of supervisors.

I would also like to review this year’s receipts and expenses against the budget for the current fiscal year, since there will only be six months remaining in this fiscal year.

Erickson: In the past 10 months, I have been reviewing the information I received from Bev Juhl regarding the duties and responsibilities of the auditor’s office. On Nov 5, if elected, I will contact Bev Juhl to schedule weekly meetings to become as informed as possible when sworn in on Jan. 2. Because the election process is a major part of the auditor’s responsibility, I would begin by reviewing the Nov 4th election and asking if any improvements regarding cost and efficiency should be made. I would also ask about any immediate concerns and long range plans that are in place.

Q. Do you consider any expenditures unnecessary? Which ones?

Lair: I am unaware of any unnecessary expenditures made by Emmet County. All expenses paid by the county must be properly accounted for and be paid for the benefit of all residents of Emmet County. The county has an independent audit every year and there has been no indication that funds have been spent inappropriately according to the audit reports.

Erickson: Without comprehensive knowledge of all aspects of the auditor’s budget, including present and future commitments, I do not feel comfortable speculating on current expenditures. I have full confidence that Bev and her staff are doing an excellent job. I would, however, plan on examining all present and future expenditures to find savings wherever possible. Although the auditor’s duties are mandated by Iowa Code, each office should be operated as efficiently as possible. One cost saving expenditure I would examine is the purchase of a centrally located networked copier to replace individual printers thereby reducing equipment, energy, paper and supply costs.

Q. Are you planning any drastic budget cuts?

Lair: No, I do not plan to make any drastic budget cuts. The auditor really does not make budget cuts, however, if a department should submit an unrealistic budget, the county auditor may review the data behind the budget and make recommendations to adjust line items on that particular budget.

The budgeting process is such that the individual departments submit their budgets to the county auditor and the auditor must review their budgets and submit the budgets to the State Department of Management with the state of Iowa after the final approval of the county board of supervisors.

Erickson: Budget cuts are generally achieved by reducing or eliminating services and/or increasing efficiencies. Whenever possible, I plan to meet budget reductions by increased efficiency and welcome suggestions that could improve the way services are provided by the auditors office. Due to economic issues i.e. reduction in investment income, increased energy and health care cost and increased material costs, drastic budget cuts may be necessary in the near term. These will force close examination of all budget expenditures. To begin with I would encourage: cross training within and between offices, reducing travel expenses through teleconferencing, and reducing energy use.

Q. Will the auditor’s office be restructured?

Lair: I see no reason to restructure the auditor’s office at this time. I would like the opportunity to learn from each of the current deputies in the auditor’s office and understand each person’s job duties.

With my accounting background, I am constantly aware of the segregation of duties and I would like to see the ability to cross train staff. This is often difficult when the number of staff is limited, however, it would help to ensure that all staff feels comfortable in their position, reduce human error, and improve accuracy in the accounting of all county funds or elections.

Erickson: At this time, I have no plans of restructuring. When discussing running for auditor, Bev Juhl offered this advice, “The present staff know their jobs. Your best plan is to let them do their jobs and learn as you go.” Considering Bev Juhl has 24 years of experience as Emmet County Auditor and knows her staff well, that is exactly what I am going to do. I will be as prepared as possible; I will use all the experiences I have acquired both at Iowa Lakes Community College and by attaining my MBA through Southwest Minnesota State University.

Q. Given the rising cost of heating, cooling and utilities, would you, as auditor, ever entertain the notion of closing the court house one day a week?

Lair: As auditor and as an individual, I would certainly entertain ideas in which we could reduce the use of energy and their costs. Budgets will certainly be tighter this year with the high cost of fuel. Therefore, we will be forced to find more creative ways to operate under limited budgets.

We must also weigh the fact that the court house is a public facility and there are certain requirements that we must maintain to provide public access. This notion would have to be studied to determine if the savings would outweigh the side effects of limiting public access.

Erickson: Although this decision would ultimately be made by the supervisors, I am confident they would rely on input from a variety of county members. Although I feel closing one day per week would be a drastic measure due to concerns too numerous to express in this article, it could, expand customer service hours. In any case, simple no cost energy conservation measures should immediately be put in place. Other future means of reducing energy consumption are: installing energy efficient bulbs (started), automatic shutoffs for lights, water heaters and heating/cooling units, installing cellular shades and purchasing high efficiency equipment.