FOR the first time in 12 years, Quincy voters will have a choice to make in the race for city treasurer.
Incumbent Peggy Crim, a Democrat, was first elected in 2001, winning 72 percent of the vote against local businessman and minister, Cliff Phillips.
Crim ran unopposed in 2005 and 2009. This year she is seeking a fourth term in office and is challenged by Tom Ernst, a Republican who has served for years on the Quincy Park Board and has worked in the insurance industry, at a travel agency and previously managed the golf course in Camp Point.
Crim has modernized the treasurer's office and has received certification as a municipal treasurer, as a public funds administrator and as a public funds investment manager.
With those accomplishments in mind, there is more than ample reason for retaining Crim as treasurer.
The history of the treasurer's office also is instructive.
When Crim first took office in 2001, the staff still kept paper ledgers, filed many items by index cards, issued handwritten receipts and used computers for little other than email. Within her first year in office, Crim had fully computerized all records. Staff members were cross-trained to ensure everyone could handle all duties in the office.
Internal controls have been instituted. Online banking and check scanning now transfer funds to city accounts faster than is possible through paper check transfers.
City investment options were expanded in 2002 when the Quincy City Council approved Crim's proposal to invest money in rural Adams County, as well as Brown, Pike, Hancock and Schuyler counties. State statutes still require that city funds be held in extremely low-risk investments, but Crim maximized the return by placing more money in interest-bearing accounts and leaving less money in no-interest accounts.
Services also have increased under Crim's direction, with the treasurer's office now processing city water bill payments.
Ernst has proposed several changes that he would make if elected, but all appear flawed to some degree and lack detail.
Ernst emphasizes that he will act as a financial watchdog for taxpayers, sounding the alert when he believes taxpayer funds are not being spent wisely by city decision-makers. His first recourse would be to reason with the mayor and aldermen, and perhaps take issues public. This goes beyond the statutory bounds of the office, whose duties are tightly defined by law, and inappropriately assumes a role that should be the purview of 14 aldermen.
Ernst also has said he will advance technology within the office by implementing a full online bill payment system. Customers would be able to log into the treasurer's web site, check their account and pay what is owed. Crim agrees that the system is desirable, but not at a cost last quoted as $22,000. Crim's point is well-taken. Customers already have many ways to pay their bills, including online through their own bank, and the need for the service Ernst proposes does not appear to justify the expense.
Ernst also has called for eliminating the office of comptroller and having the treasurer's office assume those duties, a move he said will save $70,000 and improve efficiency. He has not, however, demonstrated that such a significant change in the administration of city finances actually would save money or that effective safeguards could be put in place if a single person were responsible for all incoming funds, investments and payment.
Quincy owes Ernst gratitude for 14 years of service on the Quincy Park Board: First between 1993 and 2005, and again starting in 2011. He has done a credible job helping to manage the city's park system and served as Park Board president for nine years.
However, Ernst has not articulated a compelling reason to replace Crim, whose years of bookkeeping and accounting experience have served the city well.
Peggy Crim is endorsed for re-election.