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Longtime treasurer reflects on time in office

By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

Michael "Mickey" Billinger has seen the tools of his trade change in the 37 years since he first assumed the role of Ellis County Treasurer.

"When I came into office, we had a lot of tablets, a lot of pencils, a lot of erasers," he said during an interview in his office Monday morning. "I think we had one electronic mechanical calculator and no electric typewriters.

"Since then, everything's pretty well been computerized."

Billinger, who opted not to seek re-election this term, will be replaced by Ann Pfeifer, who ran unopposed for the county treasurer position in this month's election.

Unlike other elected officials who will assume their new positions in January, the new county treasurer's term doesn't begin until the first Tuesday of October. Billinger said that policy dates back to years when the office's duties were performed manually, ensuring all the department's books were in order before a new treasurer came on board.

Although he said there is a possibility he will stay in office until October, a process will be followed should Billinger retire before then.

"In the event that I would leave early, then the precinct committee members of the Democratic party would select a county treasurer to fill in temporarily, and no doubt that would be Ann as well," Billinger said. "So that's a possibility."

Pfeifer has served as accounting manager for the Ellis County Treasurer's office for two years. With an accounting degree from Fort Hays State University, she said she has found the office to be a good fit for her abilities.

"It seemed like a natural move," she said of her bid for the treasurer's office. "With Mickey retiring, it just seemed like, if I wanted to do it, now would be the time, or there might not be another opportunity."

"If a different, younger person got in, they could be in it for another 38 years."

Billinger said he is confident of Pfeifer's qualifications to perform the treasurer's duties.

"She's very capable," he said. "She's a quick learner.

"I'm very, very satisfied that she'll be able to pick up where I left off and probably do a much better job."

Pfeifer's accounting experience will help bring a new level of expertise to the treasurer's office and other Ellis County departments, he said, helping the county implement future online applications.

In 1975, the first year Billinger served as county treasurer, $8 million in Ellis County property taxes were collected.

Manual office operations made each transaction more labor intensive. Monday, more than $43 million in tax statements were mailed from the Ellis County Courthouse.

As records have transitioned to digital formats, operations have become more streamlined. However, additional responsibilities have backfilled the time efficiencies in the office.

Duties of the office have changed as well, with integration of the motor vehicle department into the treasurer's office.

"One of the achievements of the office made during that time frame was cross-training all the employees," Billinger said. "Having two separate offices, you had two groups of employees that could not really cover for the other departments.

"The cross-training has been a very efficient way of providing services to the public."

In retirement, Billinger said he hopes to spend time with family, travel, fish, hunt and rejuvenate outbuildings on his farmstead.

Serving 10 terms as county treasurer, Billinger has racked up an extensive list of folks to whom he said he owed a debt of gratitude. From family members to county department heads, elected officials and residents of Ellis County, Billinger said he was grateful for the support he had received throughout the years.

"I've been very fortunate to have excellent employees over all those years," he said. "And they have shared my philosophy in the commitment and dedication to providing the highest level of public service.

"I'll always be very grateful for them, because I think, essentially, that's what kept me getting re-elected."