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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane County treasurer candidates square off over office’s role in policymaking, proper investments

Republican state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, left, and  Democrat David Green face off in a KSPS Spokane County treasurer debate on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

The two men running for Spokane County treasurer squared off in a television debate taped Tuesday morning, disagreeing over the treasurer’s role in policymaking.

Republican state Sen. Michael Baumgartner said if elected as treasurer, he would be a responsible steward of tax dollars by acting as a financial watchdog with a role of transparency.

“If there is misuse or wasteful spending going on, then I’d like to speak up for that as well, too,” he said at the debate taped for KSPS-TV. “So, I think the treasurer is well-positioned to have the role as well.”

Local accountant David Green, a Democrat, responded there are 31 employees in the treasurer’s office and no budget for policy or fiscal watchdog roles.

“So, if the office gets expanded, it would take on some duties of the county commissioners,” he said. “It will also increase the size of government, which is really strange to hear coming from a Republican.”

Green said he attended a meeting held by the Washington State Association of Treasurers where it became evident that county treasurers do not set policy.

“It’s quite clear policy does not play a large role in county treasurer,” he said.

Baumgartner said his approach to policymaking is in stark contrast to Green’s. While in the state Senate, he worked with current Spokane County Treasurer Rob Chase on a bill to allow partial payments for property taxes.

“That’s a good example of how a well-qualified and experienced treasurer can work both on the local level and in Olympia to help taxpayers,” he said.“That’s a bill I changed when I was in the state Senate working on a policy issue with the local treasurer here. I think it’s important if you can see policy improvements that can help the people of this county, why wouldn’t I advocate to change that?”

When asked if he would take a different approach to investing county funds, Baumgartner said investment funding is mandated by the state, but there could be opportunities to explore a higher interest rate by examining how other states and counties approach their investments and working with legislators to change the investment methods.

Green said the county could do a better job of investing county dollars, noting there’s too much money invested in low interest-earning accounts.

Green said during a Spokesman-Review podcast recorded in September that the county has $173 million in an account that could be earning more interest if a portion of the money was shifted from the county’s investment pool to the local government investment pool operated by the state – provided the county has a good handle on cash-flow needs.

“It’s not so much different ways to invest, it’s figuring out how much cash flow the county needs that can’t be put into investments and then using that cash-flow knowledge to invest appropriately,” he said.

Chase, who is not seeking a third term in order to run for county commissioner, has rebutted Green’s claims about county investments, stating the $173 million is already invested in the local government investment pool and is a “key component in managing the region’s cash flow and liquidity needs.”

When asked about Chase’s statement, Green said he’s been looking at the county’s investment performance reports since January and the $173 million was earning an interest rate of more than 0.3 percent in August.

“Somehow, magically, that 170 some million transformed into earning 2.09 percent at the end of September, thanks to focusing on the issue of the county treasurer’s office being able to do a better job on short-term investments,” he said.

Green said his financial background as a certified public accountant and financial planner makes him a more experienced candidate.

“If you are looking for the starkest of differences, I’ve known money and worked in the money field for 30-plus years and Sen. Baumgartner is a politician,” he said.

Baumgartner said his background in economics and legislative experience makes him the best candidate for treasurer.

“I have far more experience in public budgets than Mr. Green,” he said. “I think when it comes to understanding the treasurer’s office and making sure that you can safeguard those dollars and be an adequate person who can watchdog over your hard-earned tax dollars – I think I’m very well qualified for that.”