Republican voters will have two McHenry County treasurer candidates with similar strengths to choose from in the March 18 primary.
Jeff Thorsen and Glenda Miller both have banking experience, and both have MBAs. They both hold elected office – Miller had been on the Harvard City Council and is serving her second term as a Chemung Township trustee, and Thorsen has served on the Crystal Lake City Council since 1999.
Where they differ is where their career paths took them. Miller, of Harvard, left the banking sector after 21 years, and for the past 17 years has been chief deputy treasurer under Republican Treasurer Bill LeFew, who is not seeking re-election.
Thorsen stayed in banking, and after 25 years is vice president of First Merit Bank in Union.
Both are making their case as to why they should succeed LeFew, who has served since 1997 but is stepping down to devote more time to his Harvard insurance business. No Democratic candidate filed to run for the office, meaning the primary winner will run unopposed unless the Democratic Party caucuses after the primary to select a candidate and gets the needed signatures by June 2.
Miller said her 17 years as LeFew’s second-in-command makes her uniquely qualified to run the office of 12 full-time employees – 14 if you include the treasurer and the deputy.
“The best way of saving taxpayer money is to run things efficiently, and that’s what I’ve been doing in the trenches for years,” Miller said.
Conversely, Thorsen sees his years in private banking as a strength that can bring fresh ideas to the office, which he said can make it more taxpayer friendly.
“I want to protect [taxpayers’] money – it’s still their money, even though it’s been removed from their pockets,” Thorsen said.
The main duties of the county treasurer’s office are to collect property taxes for all county units of government, and maintain county government’s bank account. The office is in charge of 88 bank accounts and 22 collector accounts that are balanced monthly.
Each year, the office gets calls from angry taxpayers about their high tax bills, unaware that the office only collects what local governments decide to levy within the limits of the tax cap and other laws. That’s something that Miller would like to change, starting with the treasurer’s website and branching out into social media.
“What would I do differently? One of the things I’ve seen on other county [treasurer] websites is more information, like what the taxing bodies receive,” Miller said.
Thorsen has a similar idea, but wants to see it printed on every taxpayer’s bill. He said tax bills in some counties include not only how much each individual government is getting from that taxpayer, but also information that reveals how much they’re getting in total and their financial health. Taxpayers, Thorsen said, deserve to know things such as whether their taxing bodies are deficit spending or sitting on a large cash reserve.
“What we can do, and what has been done in other counties, has been to grant an additional level of transparency built right into the tax bill. Other counties are doing it – we’re not reinventing the wheel,” Thorsen said.
The treasurer’s website does include a list of the exemptions that homeowners can claim to reduce their property tax bills, such as the homestead exemption for owner-occupied homes, and breaks aimed at relieving the burden on senior citizens and disabled veterans. Miller does visits and holds workshops to help taxpayers apply for them, and said she will continue to do so if elected.
“I help taxpayers understand the tax cycle, how it works and who they need to talk to,” Miller said.
Miller said she and LeFew have assembled a good team of employees who run a tight fiscal ship. If elected, Thorsen said he intends to keep that team intact – he said one of the biggest mistakes he sees in the private sector when new management comes in is sweeping away the experienced hands. But he would reallocate some of their work duties in order to accomplish his goal of greater taxpayer accountability.
“The office isn’t necessarily broken, but it could be better,” Thorsen said.
LeFew is one of three longtime Republican countywide officeholders stepping down when their terms expire at the end of the year – Sheriff Keith Nygren and County Clerk Katherine Schultz are not seeking re-election.