All three candidates for Spokane County treasurer were asked the same questions on key issues. Here are their answers.
Candidates are listed in the order they will appear on the ballot.
Should the county treasurer work toward eliminating or reducing penalties imposed on residents who own property but are delinquent in making tax payments?
Amy Biviano: This is a decision that the county treasurer cannot and should not make on his or her own. Because any reduction in tax penalties will have an immediate effect on operating budgets and strain the already thin resources for our schools and public safety, this policy must be set by the state Legislature and county commissioners. I view the treasurer’s role as an adviser to these decision makers, providing impartial and accurate data to help legislators find the right balance between enforcing tax laws and being fair to those in tough situations.
Mary Kuney: This is a legislative act, and so falls outside the authority of the treasurer. The treasurer can only implement the laws as written. It would be appropriate for the Legislature to examine reducing the penalty interest rates for those who are delinquent in paying their taxes. The current penalties are very high considering the interest rates being paid for loans in the financial market. The penalties should not be eliminated entirely, as there needs to be an incentive to pay taxes on time. .
Rob Chase: Absolutely. One of the key distinctions between myself and my opponents is I believe that 23 percent interest and penalties is excessive. My opponents have stated they believe the county’s financial dependency on that source of revenue is more important than helping people stay in their homes. I believe that in the current environment 12 percent is adequate. Furthermore, exempting property taxes from state usury laws is hypocrisy.
Should state law be amended to give county treasurers the option of investing in commodities, including precious metals?
Biviano: No. I agree with the statewide county treasurers association that removing the investment safeguards that prevent speculating in gold or silver are inappropriate and unsafe for taxpayer money. Silver has lost over 50 percent of its value since its May 2011 high, just after Rob Chase proposed moving taxpayer money into commodities, a drop that would have cost our county hundreds of millions of dollars. Our school districts and public safety simply can’t afford that kind of risk or those potential losses.
Kuney: No, state law should not be amended to allow investing in commodities. The Spokane County treasurer’s Investment Policy states, “The county treasurer has a responsibility in the investment of public funds to seek the highest rate of return available in the market consistent with the primary requirements of legality, safety, and liquidity in that order.” Speculation in commodities does not fit within this policy, nor should it.
Chase: No, not if that is the only change. I believe holding precious metals and allowing for other investment options should be considered as part of broader reform. Current state law allows treasurers to invest in very limited types of investments which are not even keeping up with inflation. We have all our eggs in one basket, and that basket isn’t doing well. It is important to point out most large private banks, central banks, governments and pension plans hold gold and silver reserves. Safety is the number one goal of public investment policy, and there is safety in diversity.
Should the county change the nature of the treasurer’s job, making it an appointed position?
Biviano: The treasurer should remain an elected position. While making it an appointed position would ensure that the treasury is managed by a finance professional with full qualifications to manage our county’s investments (which would have prevented our current situation in which the treasurer lacks a financial background), it would also mean that the position would be less accountable to the public. I trust the voters to make the right choice and elect a finance professional who will be subject to the will of the people.
Kuney: State law requires the treasurer’s position be elected. I do believe that the position should continue to be an elected position, but should be nonpartisan, as the treasurer is an administrative, professional position and is not a policy-making position.
Chase: No. The treasurer (and auditor, assessor, prosecutor, sheriff and clerk) should be independently elected. The election of the treasurer is vital to the separation of power and key to checks and balances being maintained. Also, the county only represents a small percentage of the duties performed by the treasurer. The school districts, cities, fire districts, and others have a large stake in the running of the office. A treasurer who reports to the county commissioners loses critical independence.
How would you describe your management style?
Biviano: I believe in empowering people to do the best work they can do, respecting the valuable public servants in the treasurer’s office. At the same time, my primary focus will always be ensuring the honesty and integrity of the office. Only a finance professional who truly understands the nature of work performed can truly hold her employees accountable and protect the public’s interest.
Kuney: I am an independent thinking, solution-seeking manager, with a willingness to collaborate with team members, clients and customers. A recent, unsolicited comment on my Facebook page from a former state audit client said, “I remember you as efficient, thorough, and personable in your role as a Washington a state auditor.” I plan to bring that same style, qualities and skill set to the treasurer’s office team members, as well as the clients and customers of the treasurer’s office whose money I will have a fiduciary duty to manage.
Chase: My management style is based upon my years of experience in the private sector and my operations management degree and APICS certification. I believe staff should be included in the decision-making process. When I took office we formed employee led groups to identify areas of improvement and solutions. The staff of the treasurer’s Office has centuries of experience and their insight and ideas have been absolutely essential to the improvements we have made such as reducing peak waiting, developing a new online portal, designing and deploying an electronic real estate excise tax system and changing our mail and payment processing.
What are the three key priorities for the Spokane County treasurer’s office?
Biviano: Above all, the treasurer must protect the public’s tax money to fund our public safety, schools, and county services. The three immediate needs for our county to accomplish this goal are: implementing a strong, county-wide internal control policy for accepting credit card payments, a task our current treasurer has not accomplished. Second, because our county will soon transition to partial payments and electronic recording of documents, the treasurer must ensure that this change is implemented properly by a financial professional. Finally, the county can make loans to local municipal governments, keeping our money safe and local, putting our people to work, and improving our community, while the county collects the loan interest.
Kuney: The number one priority of the treasurer is to protect taxpayer dollars. This includes maximizing the rate of return for the investment pool while meeting the requirements of legality, safety, and liquidity. My years of experience as a guardian of taxpayer and non-profit funds provides me the skill set to excel at the position of treasurer. The second priority would be to improve communication between the treasurer’s office and the other county elected officials as well as the school districts and special purpose districts whose funds are invested by the treasurer. Finally, the newly enacted Property Tax Payment, Fairness and Flexibility law allows for partial payments of current and delinquent property taxes. The implementation and refinements of this new law will fall on the new treasurer.
Chase: First, I will continue to implement the partial payment legislation that I have worked on for three years to get enacted. I think this is an important benefit to the citizens of Spokane County and Washington state. Many in the establishment opposed this reform so there will be a lot of interest in how we perform. I have absolute faith our team will rise to the occasion. Second, continue the fight for tax reform. Twenty-three percent interest and penalty on the unfortunate is ridiculous and it needs to be reduced. Period. It is unacceptable to tell people we have to charge you so much because we need the money to balance our budget or buy a race track. Third, continue to work for government transparency. I led the effort to have our Investment and Debt Policies rewritten. I also look forward to opening the discussion in conjunction with Sen. Bob Hasegawa to form a state bank comparable to the successful North Dakota model.