By Paul G. Gassert, Outgoing President of the Minnesota Association of County Auditors, Treasurers, and Financial Officers (MACATFO), and current Carlton County Auditor/Treasurer
As President of the Minnesota Association of County Auditors, Treasurers, and Finance Officers (MACATFO), I have been asked to put together a document depicting some of the expectations ‘of you’ as you assume your duty(s) as an auditor, treasurer, finance officer, or some other combination thereof. I am fortunate in that I can plagiarize portions of a similar article by Jon Clauson, Chippewa County Auditor/Treasurer, which is currently posted to the MACO web site. To that end, I thank you, Jon Clauson.
As we begin the discussion on the importance of auditors, treasurers, and finance officers, we must first look at our individual county structure or governance. Without doing extensive research, I suspect we would find that at one time, each county had an elected auditor and treasurer. Today, some counties have auditors and treasurers, some have auditor/treasurers, while others have restructured their county governance completely so as to suit the needs of their respective county. A growing number of counties are utilizing county administrators or coordinators and, while a majority of county auditors and treasurers are elected, some counties have chosen to appoint their officers.
As we look back over the years, one can see that the duties and responsibilities of our offices may not necessarily have changed, but certainly, the volume and complexity of the tasks related to those duties and responsibilities is different, and if nothing else, has grown exponentially. Regardless of the time period, county auditors, treasurers, and financial officers perform important and necessary functions, very similar to those of a chief financial officer in a private sector company.
Auditors are responsible for a variety of tasks, such as serving as the clerk to the county board, for the recording and maintaining of the historical records of actions taken by the board, in addition to working to implement the policies and procedures as authorized and directed by the board. It is not uncommon for the auditor to serve in the capacity of administrator and spokesperson for the county and/or county board.
The financial responsibilities administered by auditors, treasurers, and finance officers are a prime example of how the complexity and volume of work has changed within their offices. The days of columnar pads and indelible pencils are long gone. Automated systems are now necessary to keep up with the changes required for government accounting. Many of those changes are the results of financial abuses of which we read, by entities such as ENRON and others which have led to several Government Accounting Standards Board (GASP) pronouncements on accounting standards. Tasks associated in the preparation of the budget, financial statements, and audits have grown exponentially. Sophisticated calculations for depreciation of fixed assets and Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) require skill and experience. Cash, investment, and debt management have also changed with a myriad of investment tools and associated risks.
Once budgets have been approved, the task of calculating, collecting and distribution of property taxes takes place. Again, automated systems are an integral part of the process, but of equal, or greater importance, is the need (requirement) for training and experience within the Minnesota property tax system. With each passing year comes the promise of simplification from our legislators, only to end up with more detail and complexity.
Payroll and employee benefits management also have seen significant changes. Health plans now range from self-insured to VEBA (Voluntary Employees’ Benefit Association) to HSA (Health Care Savings Account) plans as well as traditional plans. Property, casualty and workers’ compensation insurance management tasks have grown as well.
History has shown us that our elections are becoming more closely contested, and that we, as election administrators, need to be well trained and prepared to conduct open and fair elections under close public scrutiny.
Minnesota County Auditors, Treasurers, and Finance Officers represent a group of public employees who are well trained and committed to serving their constituents. The various tasks overseen by these offices are critically important for accurate, fair, and open county governments.