As part of E-City Beat’s continuing effort to help our readers make informed decisions as voters we have sent questionnaires to all local candidates in the upcoming general election and will be publishing their responses starting today.
First up are the candidates for Cascade County Treasurer & Superintendent Of Schools. Here are the three questions we asked each of them:
- Why are you the best candidate for the position you’re running for?
- Please identify three specific goals you want to achieve if you are elected and how those outcomes will benefit Cascade County citizens.
- What is the biggest challenge facing Cascade County generally and the biggest challenge facing the specific department you are seeking to lead and how will you address that challenge?
Diane Heikkila (R)
I have been working in the Cascade County Treasurers office as a clerk for three years. I listen to the customers’ needs and wants daily and would like to help make any changes necessary to the department to make it easier to perform the variety of transactions that we provide daily.
Prior to working in the Treasurers office, I worked eight years in retail, two years supervisory, six years with the City of Great Falls Finance Department and Municipal Court. I completed a one year business course through Great Falls Vo-Tech and have completed many business training seminars/workshops. I owned and operated a home daycare while my children were young and substitute taught K-12.
The Cascade County Treasurers department provides services for motor vehicle, property tax and schools. Each section has multiple needs that need to be addressed. Right now I believe the main focus needed would be more training for the clerks. I also believe we need to have separate lines for single and multiple transactions. I believe the customers should be able to come in to pay property taxes and renewals in a separate line from the new vehicle purchases that require more time to process. I also believe that the break and lunch times need to be addressed and separated out to leave more clerks at the counter, with other office staff filling in during these times. All this would mean better efficiency within the office.
Right now we have eight service windows. One of these windows is specific for the handicapped. I would like to see two more windows along with the handicapped window used for single transactions and questions. When there are no customers meeting the criteria, then these windows will accept new vehicle purchase title work. The other five windows would be for the new vehicle purchase title work and would take single transactions if no title work is needed. My main objective would be balance of time and great customer service.
Next I would like to see updates to the Cascade County Treasury Department website. I believe a person should be able to access our website to see what is necessary to bring to our office to help ease the registration or property tax process. I also believe once the customer is waiting in line, we should have better information available on reader boards, so they know the basics of what is needed before reaching the counter.
While working in this department I have watched the equipment consistently fail. One of the biggest challenges would be working with the State of Montana to get this equipment updated. Motor Vehicle is run by the State of Montana. We are Cascade County employees. I would like to see better communication between the State and the County. I would like to see a printer to every two computers if possible to help avoid errors and missed signatures on credit card receipts and forms. I would like to see the phone system updated to help avoid missed calls.
I have many ideas on how to improve the efficiency of this department and am asking the voters to please elect me as your next Cascade County Treasurer.
Mary Swenson (D)
When most citizens think of the Cascade County Treasurer and Superintendent of Schools, they think of motor vehicle registration and property tax payments, but it is so much more than that. Not only is this office responsible for doing banking for the county but also for the rural school districts, Great Falls Transit, volunteer fire districts, water districts, Greenfield Irrigation, Sheriff’s Office, Clerk of Courts, and even more. The Treasurer’s Office oversees and reconciles approximately thirty six bank accounts, is responsible for reporting and distributing funds to the City of Great Falls, Township of Belt, Township of Cascade, and the State of Montana, while reporting to the Office of Public Instruction and Cascade County Commissioners. The Treasurer’s Office is responsible for making investments and then distributing interest from those investments.
The Treasurer’s Office has to ensure the accounting system is balanced to the property tax system and motor vehicle system. The Superintendent of Schools is tasked with registration of all teachers as well as home schooled students throughout the county. They are instrumental in organizing transportation for students in all school districts.
During my employment as the Revenue Accounts Manager for the Treasurer’s Office, I have performed all of these tasks. I worked closely with county and school auditors. I was instrumental in getting the bank reconciliation portion of the accounting software up and running for the county. I also was aware of, and pointed out, that the function of this portion of the program was only to reconcile the bank to the accounting system. I reviewed the set-up of the property tax system and made modifications to ensure cohesion with the accounting system. I reviewed our organization of the school districts accounts and restructured them to ensure accuracy between our records and theirs. I reorganized the Treasurer’s Accounting Office so it was easier to access information. I participated in the request for proposal (RFP) to find a new bank as well as implementing the conversion. I have an accounting and a business administration degree, am certified in governmental accounting, and have worked collectively for Cascade County for over fifteen years.
My first goal is to raise moral and provide training to all staff members, including cross training to help cover other areas. This would decrease wait time for citizens and help with staff retention. This office has a history of high staff turn-over and by increasing training with new staff, I think this can change. Training staff adequately will improve moral by empowering employees to have the tools they need to assist citizens. Staff who are well trained and feel valuable are happier, which would help improve the customer service aspect of the department.
My second goal would be to improve response times. Right now phone calls, emails, and mail, go unanswered for long periods of time if they are answered at all. This office should be able to respond to citizens or any other entity right away, even if it is to let them know that we are researching the issue.
My third goal is to inform the citizens of Cascade County that they can pay their property taxes or motor vehicle renewals online or by mail. This offers alternatives to standing in line and waiting. There is also a drop box at the office for payments.
One of the biggest challenges facing Cascade County is making sure it has the finances to cover its expenses. The Treasurer’s Office is responsible for receiving the funding for the county as well as banking and investing. This office has to properly record funds to the correct department or fiduciary as well as track investments and earned interest. The Treasurer’s Office also has a responsibility to answer to the citizens of Cascade County. This includes issues like wait times to get license plates, pay property taxes, or get answers to questions. My goals are to try to find solutions to these issues and make the office more efficient by improving the skills and morale of staff.
The combination of my education and experience qualifies me to take on these responsibilities. I am dedicated to meeting requirements, improving services, solving problems, and achieving goals within approved budgets.
Together we can do this.