Kootenai County is about to get a new treasurer – the first change in the leadership of that office since 2001.
One candidate on the Nov. 4 general election ballot said he would take a new approach to handling deposits and investments, saying the treasurer has not kept current with best practices.
His opponent said she does not see a need to shake up how things are done, preferring instead to invest county funds wisely and manage the office in an open and transparent way.
Tom Malzahn, who was appointed treasurer in 2001 and elected to the post three times, did not seek re-election. He supported his chief deputy, Laurie Thomas, to succeed him. But Thomas lost in the Republican primary to Steven Matheson, who now faces Democrat Janet Callen.
The treasurer’s office, with seven employees, bills and collects property taxes for all taxing authorities in the county; serves as the county banker for deposits and investments; and serves as the public administrator to oversee assets of those who die without a will.
Matheson, a municipal adviser with 28 years of experience in financial management, said as the county’s investment portfolio has grown larger and more complex, the treasurer’s office has not kept current with investment practices.
“We’ve had people in the treasurer’s office that have been in the department for so long, they were basically taught how to do things that were probably appropriate 20, 30 years ago but in my opinion are no longer relevant,” he said.
He cites as an example the county’s fund to cover the cost of one day closing the Fighting Creek Landfill. It’s money that won’t be needed for decades but has been invested for short-duration returns, Matheson said.
“If you know you’re not going to need the money for another 20 years, why would we continue to invest those funds in short-term instruments? By increasing the length of time that we put that money aside, we can increase the returns,” he said.
Matheson said he reviewed the workings of the treasurer’s office earlier this year and came away with more questions than answers.
“We have had outstanding internal control deficiencies that need to be resolved,” he said. “We have a lack of written, documented procedures controlling wire transfers, investments, how we review the expenses that we’re charged from the banking institutions that we deposit money into. These are generic, prudent steps that have not been done effectively in the past to ensure that the taxpayers’ money that we control is safe and sound.”
He added he’s not critical of anyone in particular, and he said he would value having the institutional knowledge of Thomas, the deputy treasurer.
Callen, a retired certified public accountant and former Internal Revenue Service agent, describes herself as a fiscal conservative who would not takes risks with county funds.
As for the deficiencies Matheson cited, Callen said: “I would address every fault he saw and let the public know if there really was a fault.”
She said she was troubled by his criticism of the treasurer’s office in the primary.
“I don’t like divisive politics, and I would work with everybody who is in the office right now to serve the public the best we can,” she said.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.