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Auditor-treasurer candidates are ready for challenge

The new Becker County auditor-treasurer will be faced with a formidable task once he takes office in January -- the immediate merging of two offices into one.

But the two candidates vying for that office -- Ryan Tangen and Larry J. Moe -- both feel they are up to the challenge.

Tangen, 32, has served as both treasurer and auditor for Becker County since June of this year, when then-county auditor Keith Brekken retired and Tangen was appointed to fill the post for the remainder of Brekken's term.

A McIntosh, Minn., native, he holds degrees in both business administration and accounting from Jamestown College in Jamestown, N.D., and is also a licensed CPA. He was initially appointed as county treasurer in April 2002, replacing Rita Thompson, and then elected to a full four-year term seven months later.

"I think (the transition) will not be as difficult as it has been to run two separate offices," Tangen said, referring to the fact that the auditor's and treasurer's offices won't officially become one until after the election, when the new auditor-treasurer takes office. In the interim, he has had to supervise two separate staffs.

Though he has spent the past five years as the county's treasurer, Tangen also has extensive experience as an auditor, having served with the Minnesota State Auditor's Office for four and a half years prior to accepting the position with Becker County.

In fact, one of his co-workers during that period was the man who is currently challenging him in the upcoming elections.

Moe, 41, has been employed with the State Auditor's Office for 18 years, having taken the job just a few months after graduating from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks with a bachelor's of business administration degree, majoring in accounting. He first learned of the state position from his brother, who noticed the ad in a campus publication (he was attending Minnesota State University Moorhead at the time). Positions in both Detroit Lakes and Moorhead were available.

After applying, Moe was sent to Detroit Lakes for an interview, and was hired to work there.

So he moved to Detroit Lakes in February 1988, and began working as a local government auditor for the state office. One of the counties that he was assigned to audit was Becker.

But then, in 2003, the Detroit Lakes branch office closed, and Moe nearly ended up being transferred to the Twin Cities.

"We had just moved to our new (Detroit Lakes) home in October 2002, and then we had to put it on the market," Moe said. "We only had four people who came to look at it all summer -- which now seems like it might have been a blessing, because the guy who was supposed to transfer from Mankato to (the auditor's office in) Moorhead backed out."

Still, the commute between Detroit Lakes and Moorhead is something Moe won't miss if elected.

"You do lose a couple of hours of your time at home each day (in commuting)," he said -- but added that the decreased travel time was not the major factor motivating him to seek office in Becker County.

"This is a new position that no one has ever been elected to, so I wanted to give the voters of Becker County a choice on election day," he said. "I believe that if you want something in life you must earn it, which is why I set out to campaign for this position."

For his part, Tangen said, he is looking forward to the challenges of the newly combined position. He feels he has done a good job of managing the county's $20 million in investments, and that under his supervision this year's countywide audit "was the smoothest audit ever," requiring 50 percent fewer hours and saving the county about $13,000 in auditing fees.

Moe, however, feels even more streamlining can be done, by setting up the county's Integrated Financial System (IFS) to make more data readily available to state auditors and speed up the audit process, thus saving the county time and money.

He would also like to see more focus on internal auditing of the county's various departments, to make sure sufficient internal controls are present to prevent fraud and abuse. "With the combining of the auditor and treasurer departments, I intend to ensure that there is proper segregation between the custody (of money) and record keeping functions," he added.

Tangen also pointed to segregation of these functions as a priority, but added that he feels the combination of the two offices will actually assist in that endeavor.

"By combining offices you can strengthen internal controls through having more (combined) staff to segregate those duties," he said.

At the same time, there are some functions of the two offices that already overlap, and combining them into one department will enable the county to eliminate some duplication of services "without jeopardizing the checks and balances," he added. "It just makes more sense at this point to consolidate."

Once that initial goal of consolidating the two offices into one has been accomplished -- a process Tangen said he hopes can be completed in about six months -- the next big project will be the conversion of the county to the state's new property tax system. This task must be completed by 2008.

"Hopefully this (new tax system) will save the county quite a bit of money in the future," he said.

Another priority will be making the county's property tax records more accessible to the public, via the county's Internet Web site. And Tangen also noted that there was much work to do with upgrading the county's election systems and training in preparation for the 2008 presidential elections.

"We also have a building construction project going on right now, and we're putting together a plan to pay for it through a combination of reserves and bonding," he said. At the same time, Tangen said, "having an adequate amount of reserves on hand at all times is essential."

Tangen has been a resident of Detroit Lakes since 1997. He and his wife, Rory (who grew up in Rollag) have two children: Caleb, 5, and Sarah, 3 1/2. He currently serves as

For his part, Moe is hoping to help the county work toward achieving a "Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting" from the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada.

"This honor goes to government units whose comprehensive annual financial reports achieve the highest standards in government accounting and financial reporting," he said, adding "Why not Becker County?"

In addition, Moe said, he believes that the county commissioners "should always have the best data possible to aid them in their management decisions. They should always have budget to actual figures available."

Moe is a native of Thief River Falls. He and his wife, Holly, have two children: Alexander, 5, and Kiara, 20 months.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454