Treasurer's candidates have different views of office - Quincy Herald-Whig | Illinois & Missouri News, Sports

Treasurer's candidates have different views of office responsibilities

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By DON O'BRIEN
Herald-Whig Staff Writer

The candidates for Quincy city treasurer in the April 9 election view the job differently.

Republican challenger Tom Ernst says he doesn't want to be "somebody who sits at a desk and hovers over their paperwork on their computer," but rather serve as a watchdog on issues before the City Council.

"I can benefit the city by being that watchdog," he said. "There are recommendations and issues that go on that the treasurer should have input. All I need to mention is hydro."

Democratic incumbent Peggy Crim says the job is a financial and investment position, not a legislative one.

"We're a record-keeping office," she said. "It's a non-political position. It's a financial position. Our job is to collect the money, track it, invest it and make reports to the council members.

"The city already has 14 watchdogs. They are the men and women who make up the City Council. It is their job to find out all of the information that they can about any project and decide how best to spend that money. My job is to make sure the money is invested properly and is available when they do want to spend it."

Crim, 55, was the first woman elected to the position when she defeated Cliff Phillips in 2001. She is certified as an Illinois municipal treasurer, public funds administrator and public funds investment manager.

Ernst, 56, is self-employed in the insurance business. He returned to the Quincy Park Board in 2011 after previously serving as commissioner from 1993-2005. He said he initially considered other offices before filing for treasurer.

"The treasurer's office came on my radar from the fact that I  somewhat wanted to run for mayor, I somewhat wanted to run for alderman and I somewhat wanted to run for treasurer," he said.

"With all of my expertise through the Park Board and other civic organizations that I've been involved with, treasurer is a better fit for me at this time of my life. I do not have an accounting degree, just with the school of hard knocks, I guess, running my own business and businesses for others."

Ernst is proposing the elimination of the position of comptroller (currently held by Ann Scott), consolidating the offices and making the treasurer in charge of all financial transactions.

He said he believes that move, which must be approved by the City Council because the position is required by the city code, would save $70,000 to $75,000 a year.

The treasurer oversees an office that handles accounts receivable, investments and water payment collection. The treasurer also serves in that capacity with the fire and police pension fund boards.

The comptroller's office handles payroll and accounts payable for the city, the Quincy Public Library and Quincy Township. The comptroller also helps prepare the annual city budget and has taken on the additional duties of purchasing director.

Ernst admits a new purchasing director might have to be hired if the offices are consolidated, lowering potential savings.

"The treasurer takes in the money, and the comptroller pays out the money," he said. "It's kind of strange that we have somebody paying out money who is appointed and not elected to watch over our money."

Crim said it is important to keep both the treasurer and comptroller positions to maintain proper internal controls to safeguard city funds. Adams County has the same setup with the treasurer and county clerk.

"The thing about combining the two offices is that you take away the checks and balances," she said.

Crim said creating internal controls for all duties in her office was one of the first actions she took when elected. She modernized the office by computerizing all records.

The treasurer's office was the first Adams County office to put investments out for bid to expand opportunities for city and county banks, and Crim implemented secure online banking to monitor accounts and transfer funds instead of writing checks.

"When I first took over, everything was pretty much done by hand," Crim said. "There were hand-written receipts, hand-written ledgers. Information was stored on index cards and that type of thing. It's completely computerized now.

"I have a few things I haven't been able to finish yet. Sometimes, it's been because of time. Sometimes, it's been because of money."

One of those things is an full online bill payment system, which both candidates agree should be a priority. The system allows customers to log in, look at their account and pay what is owed.

Crim said cost has been the primary obstacle in past years. The first program she priced in 2001 was $100,000. The last was priced at $22,000 in 2012.

"I would like to see it get down to $4,000 or $5,000," Crim said. "Even then, it has go through the council. They have to approve of spending that money.

"With the way the world is nowadays, everybody likes to do things the easier way. I want to find a way that is cost-effective."

Ernst doesn't understand the delay.

"You can pay by phone, but I don't know why in this day and age of technology you can't pay online," he said. "I would look into making payment of your water bills and whatnot available to be done online."

Ernst pointed to an online payment system instituted by Adams County, but that system is similar to the one the city now has. Neither is full online banking. One difference is that the county charges a fee and the city doesn't.

— dobrien@whig.com/221-3370

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