The presentation of the auditor’s report has gotten many people in Fort Scott talking about how they would like to see things handled. Mr. Sercer’s report suggested that the computer system should be setup so it was impossible to override interest charges without the approval of someone from another department.
I disagree with that suggestion.
The last thing we need in government is more hoops for people to jump through to do their jobs. People are elected because we want them to use their judgement. If there is no judgement involved, what is the point of having an election in the first place?
Let me give you an example. Lets say that you are late on your taxes so you call down to the Treasurer’s office and ask how much you owe. They look at the computer and say you owe $342.76. You make out a check, put it in the mail and it arrives at the Treasurer’s office two days later. When they go to receive the money, the computer says that you now owe $342.88.
As a tax payer, how would you prefer to see the situation handled?
- Your money is received, but because of the $0.12 outstanding, your property gets given to the abstractor and you don’t find out about it until you discover that your property is going to be auctioned off for the $0.12. By that time there are other fees and expenses that you have to pay in order to keep your property off the sale. In addition there is all the expense of time spent by the court house to deal with another piece of property going through the tax sale procedure.
- The person entering the amount has to ask the treasurer to override the $0.12. The treasurer needs to involve someone in another office to approve the override. All in all it takes 3 people an extra 10 minutes. Assuming an average wage of $10 apiece the cost for labor is $5 (30 minutes total x $10 per hour). So instead of being out $0.12 the county is now out $5.12.
- The person entering the amount has enough leeway to say “close enough” but the system records the difference in a way that is public to everyone and viewable on the web. What constitutes “close enough” is set by policy by the Treasurer.
Maybe it is just me, but I would rather see the county just write off the $0.12 but handled in a public way where everyone can see it. What about you? How would you like to see a situation like that handled? In talking with employees in the Treasurer’s office it doesn’t sound like getting a check that differs by a few cents unusual. It happens on a regular basis.
I’m sure some people are asking, “but what if it starts happening for larger amounts?” That is a good question. Imagine that any time they needed to write off some interest, everyone in the county was given a chance to vote whether or not to write of the $0.12 or $2.00 or whatever it might be. Would that be fair? It might be fair, but it would require far to much time to get anything done, but in essence that is why we have an elected official. We don’t vote on every decision. We vote on the person who makes those decisions.
A very simplistic view is that the Treasurer and other public officials need to “just follow the law”. That is true, but the whole reason we have someone in that position is because there are going to be judgement calls that have to be made. If it was just a matter of following a procedure, then why are we even paying a salary for a Treasurer in the first place? They could be replaced by an ATM type device that just takes people’s money for their taxes or an online payment webpage.
As a citizen and as a tax payer, I know I want someone in that position who can act on my behalf and do what is in the best interest of the county as a whole. Many times that might mean writing off small amounts where the cost of collection is greater than the amount itself. In some cases it might mean making a decision that later turns out to have lost some money, but was still a reasonable decision based on the data available at the time.
My point isn’t to discuss the legality or ethics of a particular decision, but merely to point out that the entire reason for having a Treasurer (and other officials) is allow people to elect someone who can use their judgement to make decisions as we’d like to see them made and in the interest of all tax payers. Taking the ability to make judgement calls away defeats the purpose of electing them in the first place.
But that is my opinion. What do you think?