I am hopeful and optimistic as October gets underway and I begin the tax season process for the second time as your treasurer. In keeping with my goal to examine all the ways things can be done more effectively in the treasury, I handled tax season a little differently last year. The end goal then and now remains the same: Make sure tax statements get out to taxpayers earlier. The first step in reaching that goal is getting numbers from the clerk earlier than in the past. The treasury needs that information before tax amounts can be finalized, printed, and sent to citizens.

After months of talking with the county clerk and other county officials last year, the treasury still got numbers from Clerk Maskus and Deputy Clerk Dreiling 20 days later than statute dictates: Nov. 21. This delinquency has not been addressed before I took office and has been consistent over several years. In 2013, the treasurer’s office got the required documentation from the clerk’s on Nov. 18. In 2014, it was Nov. 12. In 2015 and 2016, it was Nov. 16. Kansas statute requires this information be sent by the clerk’s office to the treasurer by Nov. 1 every year, yet until I was elected no other elected officials made the public aware of what was going on, or in any way held the clerk accountable for the consistent delinquency.

The clerk’s delinquency has a variety of negative effects. Two of the bigger ones: Citizens have a shorter time between getting their tax bills before they come due to be paid; the treasury has tax payments in possession for a shorter time before they are distributed, (making a variety of things more difficult, not limited to a loss of income since that money cannot earn interest for as long). In addition, to get all the work done in a shorter span than statute dictates puts immense pressure on Ellis County’s treasury, resulting in overtime on an unpredictable schedule (which costs the county extra money). I will say I was shocked to see the resulting pressure and blowback I received as a newly elected official upon bringing up such a simple issue. Regardless of how patiently and openly I communicated with county officials for months leading up to the time when I made my concerns public, I was the one put under scrutiny and bullied by commissioners and the county administrator. Since then, that has remained the case. Last year I sought counsel from two of the longest-standing treasurers in Kansas, who said it was time to bring this matter forward to the public. Their clerks provided them numbers in late October, even before the deadline, and they had never heard of deadlines being met after Nov. 6, and in that case, only for extreme circumstances. It is true, they said, that when one goes against “the way things have always been done” there is indeed immense pressure to step back in line and keep it quiet, even when it is something as simple and straightforward as following the laws of the State of Kansas.

I like to keep things light and simple: I enjoy getting along with people; I give cooperation, professionalism, and communication. I don’t expect it in return, but I am always hopeful, and so I look forward to the new leadership soon coming on our county commission. If we can be friendly with each other while getting our jobs done, much the better. If not, let’s at least make sure the job is getting done. My main goal remains: to do right by the tax payers by accounting for their dollars and managing them effectively.

As I said, I am optimistic this year will bring change, that the work and time spent informing and encouraging cooperation between the clerk’s office and the treasury seems to be paying off this year, so far. One early step in the tax roll process began this year on Aug. 31, whereas last year, that step did not get completed by the clerk’s office until the last week of October. Furthermore, now that citizens and all county commissioners are aware of this situation for a second year in a row, I am hopeful that encourages the clerk’s office to cooperate and meet the Nov. 1 deadline this year. My office will continue to work with the clerk’s office to see that the citizens of Ellis County receive their tax statements in a much timelier manner. As I said before, there have been efforts made this year by the clerk and her deputy that are acknowledgeable.

Lisa Schlegel

Ellis County Treasurer