County treasurer’s race heats up

August primary could be pivotal

Two candidates vying for Shawano County treasurer are offering different approaches on how the treasurer should work with other county officials in tracking public funds.

Incumbent Debra Wallace faces challenger Mary Hagen in an Aug. 9 Republican primary that could prove decisive, with no Democrat or other candidate running in November.

Voters elected Wallace four years ago to succeed Kay Schroeder, who stepped aside after 20 years as county treasurer.

Hagen, who is making her first bid for elected office, has worked for many years as an accountant in the county’s finance department.

The winner of the November election will serve four years in a $56,000-a-year position responsible for overseeing all county property tax collections, processing other payments to the county, issuing employee paychecks and balancing the county’s main bank account.

Hagen said the treasurer’s office under Wallace has been withholding information from county finance staffers related to balancing a bank account that typically has millions of dollars in public funds.

If elected treasurer, Hagen said she would resign her position in the county finance department and would be more forthcoming with that department about sharing information needed to track the bank account.

“It’s very difficult to get information from that office,” she said of the treasurer’s office. “There is definitely room for improvement.”

Wallace said her office does not share its bank-balancing work product with the county finance department because doing so would compromise the integrity of government accounting practices and would be like a school teacher giving students “the answers to the test.”

Wallace said her financial records are all open to the public, but county finance officials are supposed to maintain their own records and balance their own books, she said.

“I strongly believe in those checks and balances,” she added.

The county collects about $15 million a year in property taxes, plus another $25 million in other revenues, and processes about $16 million a year in employee paychecks.

The treasurer’s salary is scheduled to increase to $61,000 a year by 2020.

Wallace, who served as deputy treasurer under Schroeder, said she has implemented web-based improvements in automation that make it easier for taxpayers to pay their tax bills online and also to get access to records of their tax payments. Over the next four years, she hopes to expand that automation to include area towns and villages that collect property taxes.

“This just makes it more easy for everybody, more efficient,” she said. “It’s the sweetest program ever.”

Hagen, who has worked 16 years for the county, said her current accounting job involves overseeing the county’s accounts payable and all its fixed assets, such as buildings, real estate and vehicles.

She said she thought carefully about running for county treasurer because she feels strongly that improvements are needed in the treasurer’s office.

“I think it’s time for a change,” she said. “It’ll be good for me, and it’ll be good for the county.”