Treasurer's Office responsible for billions of county dollars

Both candidates for Thurston County treasurer are running on their experience.

Current Treasurer Shawn Myers, a Democrat, stresses her public sector experience in the Treasurer’s Office. She started working there as a cashier in 1986, rising through the ranks until she became chief deputy treasurer in 2000. She resigned in 2005 to become controller of Aberdeen-based Bank of the Pacific. In 2008, she became the cash-flow manager in the state Treasurer’s Office.

“I think that my banking experience is more relevant to the position of the treasurer,” she said.

Tom Nelson, a Republican, stresses his private sector experience and that he is the only candidate with a college degree.

He is now a vice president and commercial loan officer for Thurston First Bank, and has more than 14 years in the banking industry. He received his bachelor’s degree in finance and a master’s in business administration from Brigham Young University.

“What that shows is dedication,” he said.

Myers said that she has attended college classes throughout her career and has logged hundreds of hours of professional training.

The Thurston County Commission appointed Myers as treasurer in May, after Robin Hunt announced her resignation in January. Commissioners had announced their intent to appoint then-Olympia City Councilman Joe Hyer to the seat, but plans changed after Hyer was arrested on drug-related charges days later.

The treasurer is responsible for receiving and disbursing more than $2 billion. The County Commission sets the county budget, but the treasurer manages its finances – as well as for 40 school and fire districts. In addition to spending money, the person elected to the job is responsible for investments.

Myers and Nelson have raised nearly the same amount of money, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission. As of Friday, Myers had raised $37,193 and spent $37,134. Nelson had raised $34,210 and spent $33,320.

Myers’ biggest contribution was $7,000 from the Thurston County Democratic Central Committee. Her donors include several top Democrats, including County Commissioner Sandra Romero, who donated a total of $190, and County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela, who donated a total of $190. County Assessor Patricia Costello donated $100. State Sen. Karen Fraser donated $50.

Nelson’s top donor is Craig Forster, owner of Norma’s Burger, who gave a total of $1,530. The Affordable Housing Council, an arm of the Olympia Master Builders, gave him $1,050. He received $500 from the Thurston County Republican Central Committee and a total of $600 from the Thurston County Women’s Republican Club. Former treasurer Hunt, who is endorsing Nelson, donated a total of $400. Lacey Business League gave $500.

Both candidates say they have ideas that make them stand out. Myers starts with initiatives she’s implemented. She changed the office’s foreclosure policy to allow families and seniors to defer some tax payments because of a lost job or medical expenses. Rather than having to pay three years of delinquent taxes at once, they could pay one year. The back taxes would still be due later.

The office implemented a system to accept credit card payments, and expanded hours to include the lunch hour. The office is working on a Web portal to give up-to-date information about taxing districts. She said she’s also exploring the idea of electronic tax statements.

Nelson said his ideas for the office make him stand out. He proposes sending out postcards to people who are late on paying their property taxes and real estate excise tax payments. He wants to automate the real estate excise tax form. “We’re talking thousands and thousands of papers and the whole process could be automated,” he said.

Because of the number of foreclosures, he said the office needs to explore offering its services in Spanish and other languages, “if there’s a need and funding.”

“What I want to get across to voters is if they don’t know either of us that this is a decision about the county’s money and that we need somebody in there that we can trust,” Nelson said.

Said Myers: “I would just like to emphasize my combination of (private) sector experience, the 12 years of community banking and my 21 years of public treasury management,” she said.

“It’s all been hands-on experience.”

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@theolympian.com

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