Crow Wing County's newly combined position of auditor/treasurer has the unusual situation of two incumbents vying for the post.
Laureen Borden, treasurer, and Deborah Erickson, auditor, debated the issue Monday at the League of Women Voters of the Brainerd Lakes and American Association of University Women candidate forum at the Little Theater at Brainerd High School.
Both candidates cited their experience and knowledge. Erickson has 16 years experience. Borden has served almost 24 years as the treasurer. Both said they would work with the combined office. Both were asked why they were the best candidate for the new office.
Borden said the combined office will be easier for the public to have delinquent taxes and current taxes handled by one office, but she said there are challenges ahead in staff training, particularly for vital records such as births and deaths. The treasurer's office sends out 86,000 tax statements around the world, Borden said.
Erickson agreed there will be a learning curve with the combined office and cross-training for staff. Erickson said there will be customer efficiency and a budget savings of $200,000 in 2011.
Erickson pointed to her diverse and broad duties as auditor, including budgeting and accounting, property tax calculations and certifications with the Department of Revenue and as an elections officer, among others. Erickson noted the broad scope of experience and established working relationships between her office and the state level.
Borden noted her 24 years of experience in handling millions of dollars with tax collections. As for the elections portion of the auditor's responsibilities, Borden said she would hire Erickson as elections director.
Both women noted the county's election system gained state praise among counties across the state for Election Day results and through a U.S. Senate recount.
In terms of addressing budget shortfalls, Erickson said budget cuts are in place to reduce dependence on state aid. Erickson noted a reduction in overtime in her office as technology was used for greater efficiency and more services offered online as staff was reduced. She also pointed to greater collaboration within the county and outside its borders.
Borden said the county has been working with reduced budgets for four years and she is putting in longer hours herself since a chief deputy was not replaced. Borden said as a farm wife she's always known how to be frugal and she pointed to the need to do without the latest equipment when what is already in place works well. Borden said her office has used volunteers and temporary workers to keep costs down.
"I have the experience with money," Borden said. "I know the checks and balances that need to be in place and I enjoy serving you as an elected official.
"I will count your money well and I will hire Deb and she'll count your votes very well and we'll make an unbeatable team."
Erickson said for the future maintaining the status quo isn't enough anymore. Erickson said she has the experience, enthusiasm and skills to lead the challenge.
"I have a proven track record looking for the best solutions to make government operate more efficiently and offer better customer service," Erickson said. "I'm open to new ideas."
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.
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