Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Election 2010: Urbanik vs Wichlinski in County Auditor race

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By KEVIN NEVERS

In the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 2, Democrat Vicki B. Urbanik and Republican Robert J. Wichlinski will vie for the office of Porter County Auditor. The Chesterton Tribune invited both to respond to candidate questionnaires.

The Tribune set word limits for each question and reserved the right to edit for length.

(1) Age, place of residence, occupation.

Urbanik: 47, Morgan Township, Chesterton Tribune journalist/community editor.

Wichlinski: 50, Boone Grove, CEO and managing partner of ON-SITE Computer LLC, instructor at Purdue University Calumet, consultant to Purdue Homeland Security Institute, graduate student at Valparaiso University.

(2) Describe the Porter County Auditor’s responsibilities. (75 words)

Urbanik: A main duty is the data preparation for property tax bills and the distribution of revenues to taxing units. In this capacity, the auditor must keep open dialogue with local government and work closely with the County Assessor, Treasurer, and IT. The Auditor also serves as the financial administrator for county government, which includes preparing payroll, paying claims, and monitoring county department budgets. In this capacity, the auditor must work cooperatively with the County Council.

Wichlinski: The duties and responsibilities of County Auditor are detailed in the Indiana Constitution and the Indiana Code (www.in.gov). They are also described on the Porter County website (www.porterco.org). The Auditor keeps the books, pays the bills, makes payroll, calculates and generates tax bills, and certifies the minutes of the County Council meetings. Moreover, the Auditor accumulates budget information and disperses revenue to other units of government while assuring legal compliance.

(3) What are your qualifications for the office? (75 words)

Urbanik: I possess the main qualifications—a comprehensive understanding of local government finance and budgeting. I also hold Level I-II assessor certification. Along with my government accounting knowledge, I have post-baccalaureate coursework in financial, managerial, and cost accounting. Through essays and workshops, I have shown that I can effectively explain sometimes complicated tax issues. I am in my 24th year of county budget hearings, giving me detailed insight into two decades of county spending.

Wichlinski: I have 27 years of executive managerial experience. I have 17 years of computer-based, government fund-accounting experience. I have a four-year record of accomplishment serving as a local elected official. I am a small-business owner who has administered payroll for nearly two decades. I am an information technology professional and college educator in information technology.

(4) Why are you seeking election to the office? (75 words)

Urbanik: I announced my candidacy last year partly to demonstrate my longstanding commitment to this office. I believe my knowledge of taxation and budgeting, along with my skills in producing thorough, on-time work, will provide the best service for taxpayers. I understand the complexities of the Auditor’s and Assessor’s offices and will work closely with the Assessor to ensure accuracy in net assessed values, abated property values, and deducted values, in turn minimizing costly mistakes.

Wichlinski: I decided to run for County Auditor because I yearn for what every taxpayer in Porter County wants and deserves: timely, accurate tax bills and the restoration of confidence and certainty. Moreover, I believe my fellow taxpaying citizens deserved less politics and more cooperation in county government.

(5) Differentiate yourself from your opponent and indicate why you believe yourself a better candidate. (125 words)

Urbanik: I am the only candidate who has consistently attended county budget hearings. In addition to my knowledge of government accounting and SBOA manuals, I have post-baccalaureate coursework in private sector accounting. I attended the state auditor conference and have been on a statewide auditor listserve for more than a year. I am a Level I-II certified assessor, have written extensively on tax issues, and have corrected errors in tax rate and budget data.

Further, I would never urge voters not to vote, as my opponent did with the Regional Transportation District referendum.

I also believe the County Auditor must put aside biases and politics when working with other elected officials. I have a proven track record of working in such a cooperative spirit.

Wichlinski: My opponent achieved Level I and II certification to serve as an assessor, not as Auditor. It’s like completing training and receiving certification to serve as fire chief, then submitting your application for police commissioner. Why?

I’ve authored four township budgets, implemented and maintained countless information systems, and managed people my entire professional life. My question: Does “witnessing and reporting on county government for decades” constitute qualification? I’ve been a USGA member for decades, I’ve witnessed countless golf matches, so am I therefore qualified to compete in professional golf? I fear my opponent will discover that “the game moves a lot faster on the field than it does from the press box” and by that time it will be too late for all of us.

(6) What are the key issues in the race? (125 words)

Urbanik: We need improved efficiency in our county tax administration system, a taxpayer-advocate approach, and enhanced dialogue with local taxing units.

The key issue in this year’s race is which candidate has the most thorough understanding of local government finance and county budgeting. We need a County Auditor who has the commitment and passion to ensure that we never again repeat costly mistakes that have occurred under different Auditor administrations. We need an Auditor who is guided by the public’s good, maintains high ethical standards, knows how to produce accurate and thorough work under deadline, pays close attention to detail, and works well with people of differing viewpoints. I possess those qualities. Further, I will work as Auditor full-time, with no other side jobs.

Wichlinski: I am qualified to serve as Auditor. We need timely, accurate tax bills. We need to fully implement our Graphical Information System (GIS). We need to assure truthful administration of mandated tax caps. We need to pay our county employees fairly and legally. We need an effective eGov strategy. We need to restore confidence in the County Auditor’s office. We need to elect a proven leader with a record of success. We need to elect a person committed to “no excuses” customer service who has demonstrated the ability to deliver.

(7) What can you do to implement the timely issuance of property-tax bills? (75 words)

Urbanik: I will take a deadline-oriented approach, working cooperatively with other departments and holding regular staff meetings to track compliance with the assessment-to-tax billing schedule. When problems arise, we will tackle them aggressively and not waste time blaming others. Fortunately, our county’s pay-2010 tax bills were on time, and our county is several months ahead of last year in the work needed for the 2011 bills. I will keep us on track.

Wichlinski: Timely, accurate tax bills require an effective understanding of (1) laws and variables which affect the tax rate calculations, (2) means by which to communicate and cooperate with our County Assessor and Treasurer, (3) implementation of eGov, (4) lawful implementation of “best practices” government accounting procedures, (5) information technology, and (6) resource management.

(8) What can you do to ensure the accuracy of data provided to county and local officials? (75 words)

Urbanik: My work performance shows I strive for thoroughness and accuracy. I have caught mistakes in tax rates and budget orders. As Auditor, I will review data before released, immediately correcting any errors.

Open communication is key. I value the strong relationships I’ve forged over the years with local government. I will maintain a professional and bipartisan work ethic, with an open-door policy so that local officials are always kept abreast of important tax issues.

Wichlinski: See previous answer.

(9) If elected, what new policies or programs would you implement? (75 words)

Urbanik: I intend to greatly improve taxpayer outreach. From my workshops, I know taxpayers want accurate and well-rounded information to help sort through sometimes-complicated tax issues. I will make the Auditor’s Office a trusted and helpful resource. My office will update the County Auditor’s webpage with tax essays, forms, and links, presented in clear and easy to understand terms. I will also continue to publish tax brochures and to host public tax workshops.

Wichlinski: If elected, I will focus on (1) timely, accurate tax bills, (2) truthful implementation of tax caps. (3) lawful, accurate payroll, (4) a robust graphical information system (GIS), (5) eGov, and (6) transparency and effective cooperation with the Assessor’s and Treasurer’s offices.

(10) Do you expect to ask the Porter County Council for additional funds or employees to fulfill your responsibilities? (75 words)

Urbanik: I have no plans to request additional positions. I have been concerned about skyrocketing overtime. By more equitably distributing duties, we will end exorbitant overtime. By demanding accuracy, we won’t waste money later to correct mistakes. I disagree with the pending request for an Auditor raise and in fact support cutting the current salary to bring it in line with the Assessor and Treasurer. I also pledge to follow the county’s ethics and personnel policies.

Wichlinski: The present workload will be accomplished timely, accurately, and within the budget approved by our County Council. The challenge is to more effectively use the present resources, not demand more. Sometimes more is not better, it’s just more.

(11) Do you expect to make any staff changes in the Auditor’s Office. Why or why not? (50 words)

Urbanik: With County Council approval, I plan to restructure positions to more clearly differentiate between budget and tax duties. I will create a team approach, with critical responsibilities assigned to several individuals. With cross training and open dialogue, we will ensure the office’s work is stellar when key individuals are unavailable.

Wichlinski: The real challenge is to assure that the staff serving in Auditor’s Office has the experience, the training, the resources, and the support to accomplish their mission effectively and efficiently.

 

 

 Posted 10/5/2010

 

 

 

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