Record Editorial: County should consolidate auditor, treasurer
Keith Brekken plans to retire this year after 16 years in the Becker County Auditor's seat. He has been an outspoken, sometimes cantankerous -- but always independent -- voice in county government, where he has positioned himself as a counterweig...
Keith Brekken plans to retire this year after 16 years in the Becker County Auditor's seat.
He has been an outspoken, sometimes cantankerous -- but always independent -- voice in county government, where he has positioned himself as a counterweight to the power of the county board.
At times he has been controversial, especially in his early years, when he often did battle with commissioners.
But Brekken has always taken his statutory powers seriously and he has provided a platform for residents who feel shut out of the mainstream political process, be they environmentalists or tax protesters.
He has served his constituents well, and has earned their thanks.
He is also just the fourth auditor to serve Becker County in the last 72 years, and he should be the last.
With Brekken's retirement, it's time to join the 53 other Minnesota counties that have combined the positions of auditor and treasurer.
And the new auditor-treasurer position should be elected by the people, not appointed by the county board.
Of course, it's easy to be sanguine about consolidating the positions, knowing that Becker County Treasurer Ryan Tangen will likely get the job, or at least run for it.
Tangen cut his teeth with the State Auditor's Office, knows the business well, and has done an excellent job since being elected county treasurer.
Tangen says he is not opposed to a consolidated auditor-treasurer's office. And yes, he plans to run for the job, if the county board goes that route.
Tangen oversees a staff of two (a third employee now works in the recorder's office in a collaborative move). Brekken oversees six people in the auditor's office and six more in the motor vehicle department (two full-time and four part-time.)
Tangen would like to see the walls come down, so that an auditor-treasurer would be in charge of a combined department, as opposed to one person in charge of two "separate" offices.
We agree that that would be the best approach.
The checks and balances of keeping separate offices are mostly obsolete, designed in the days when vast books were passed from department to department.
Internal checks and balances are actually improved with a larger department, and technology has rendered much of the original design obsolete.
Why make the treasurer's office responsible for collecting new taxes, but the auditor's office responsible for delinquent taxes? That's how it is now, and there are many such examples.
While hand-written receipts used to be laboriously copied as paperwork went from auditor to treasurer to recorder, tax payments are now entered into a computer immediately, automatically updating accounts in several departments at once.
The books almost balance themselves. But in case they don't, the county is audited regularly by either the state or an outside accounting firm.
Consolidation of the auditor and treasurer positions would streamline county government, leading to better customer service. And isn't that the ultimate goal?
But the county board needs to move fast. Consolidation of offices has to be done at least 30 days before election filing opens July 4.