Change… in the Treasurer’s office

Brent Finnegan -- October 29th, 2008

Here’s another part of our Q&A series with City Treasurer candidates:

What (if anything) needs to change within the Treasurer’s Office? How would you execute that change?

Bill Ney: The Treasurer’s Offices needs to be updated. The office needs a website to help communicate with its customers. Bill payment options are necessary and credit and check card payments must become reality. These changes need to be the first priority of the next Harrisonburg City Treasurer and the beginning of providing the best customer service to the taxpayer.

Penny Paul Imeson: As I have been walking in the neighborhoods talking to city residents, I have been told that the image of the Treasurer’s office is tired and unfriendly. Many remain suspicious after the recent Treasurer’s scandal. Change is necessary until the image improves and the office is modernized.
I envision a professional, courteous and welcoming business place, similar to a friendly neighborhood bank. Early in the summer I began offering specific ideas for improving customer service and modernizing the office to bring it into the 21st Century.

Many of my suggestions are from the perspective of the taxpayer. As Treasurer my first step will be to map the functions of the office. In other words, study the handling of collections from receipt to deposit and look for improvements in efficiency and security. The process should be ongoing.

My opponent claims that change has take place and it is time for stability. I disagree. The staff provides the stability with the day-to-day functions of the office for which they have been trained. This election is an opportunity to elect a leader with executive experience and fresh ideas who will continually strive to improve the office.

I have the professional education and experience to lead the Treasurer’s Office. My MBA trained me in finance, accounting, leadership and business. My work experience has given me hands on responsibilities in budgeting, accounting and management. My leadership will restore the confidence of the community in the Treasurer’s Office.

Let’s avoid the status quo. Vote for new ideas and fresh perspective. We all pay taxes. Let’s make it easier.

Jeff Shafer: I want the office to continue to grow in technology to make our work more efficient and to provide our taxpayers with more options to pay their bills and provide better information to serve them. I have already created the office’s first website to better inform our citizens, I have installed security cameras for protection and accountability, and I have installed several new computers to give the staff the equipment they need to serve our taxpayers better. All of this was done while staying within the budget prescribed by city council. But, I don’t want to stop there. I’m in the end stages now of having online bill paying available. I have been working on this project for several months now, and we should have that system in place and available to our taxpayers very soon. This project involves more than just the treasurer’s office. It also involves our IT department, and our Finance Department. Once our accounting systems are in place in such a way that each department’s needs are satisfied, it will be ready to go. I’ve also contacted our bank about possibly having an ATM machine available in our building, and to accepting major credit cards over the counter. I would also love to see our office remodeled to make it a more pleasant place to work and to visit. We just had new lighting installed which definitely gives the office more life, but I would love to see much more done. However, budget restraints are a hindrance to seeing that idea become reality. But, I will work as hard as I can to see what I can get done.

I have improved interdepartmental relations by being more open and outgoing with other departments, city council, and the city manager’s office. By attending staff meetings and speaking frequently with other officials and department heads to hear their ideas and needs have helped this office not only run more efficiently but also make us a more cohesive government as a whole. It was important to me to be more proactive in how we function within the city government as a whole rather than just be an independent part.

For years, the City has discussed the idea of eliminating the vehicle decal. I would be all in favor of that provided we had other effective collection measures in place. DMV stops are a very effective collection tool. One who owes delinquent personal property taxes cannot perform any transaction with the DMV. The only problem I have with that is I fear it may create too much of a burden for the taxpayer to get matters resolved. They would be travelling back and forth between our office and the DMV. But, a solution to that would be to put a DMV satellite office on our premises. This program is called DMV Select. Then, our taxpayers could take care of all their vehicle needs right in our office. This is not a change to be taken lightly. I understand the frustration some taxpayers feel because of the decal. However, I wouldn’t want replace one frustration with another.

Internally, I am always open to change and seeking new ways to make what we do more efficient and that will hold us more accountable. Safeguarding the funds is my number one responsibility and I will make any change necessary to any policy or procedure we have in place if it means our tax dollars will be safer and we will be held more accountable. I have already stopped all check cashing and city council has now written that into code. I changed how our taxpayers should write their checks. No longer should the check be written to the Treasurer, it should now simply be written to the City of Harrisonburg. I have employed new collection means to keep revenues up. It is important to me that everyone be treated fairly and equally. For example, in a recent month, we had the highest meals tax collection ever, even though restaurant sales were actually down.

The staff and I have gotten a lot done in the six months I have been on the job, and we plan to do a lot more if I’m elected.

Three candidates are running for City Treasurer. We’ll post more questions and answers this week.

4 Responses to “Change… in the Treasurer’s office”

  1. Karl says:

    The three candidates are on the air in moments…10-11 on WSVA. You can call in your question at 433-9782.

  2. Thanh says:

    Just found this – Harrisonburg Online Payment Systems (HOPS) – is available online here: I haven’t had the opportunity yet to pay a bill online, but I did login to my Water information with my account and pin numbers and saw my balance due (at this time $0.00). I am also able to view the history of previous bills paid. It appears that folks in the City offices are making good changes. Pretty neat!

  3. BANDIT says:

    Does anyone know the current tax collection rate that Jeff Shafer holds since taking office?…Becky Neal had a tax collection rate of 99.7% for comparison.

  4. JGFitzgerald says:

    There’s no way to measure the collection rate yet. The new treasurer hasn’t been in office for a full fiscal year. Also, if memory serves, that collection rate is cumulative: 90-some percent of the fiscal ’08 taxes might be collected, but not necessarily during fiscal ’08.

    More information here, BTW.

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