Wilkin, Birkey appear at candidates forum
PRINCETON — Two candidates for Bureau County treasurer talked about their qualifications at a candidates forum held Saturday that was sponsored by Voices From the Prairie at the Princeton Public Library.
Rick Wilkin (Democrat)
Wilkin of Ohio, Ill., said his family talked about politics as he was growing up. He cited the 1964 presidential election and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy as key memories in his early years. Wilkin said he first learned how to be a leader and work with others as a camp counselor, and wants to make it better for working people of Bureau County by being the county’s treasurer.
Wilkin said the decisions he has made over the years were made not just for his benefit but in consideration of how they might affect others. He described his leadership style as democratic, not autocratic, and wanted to be fair to all involved and be consistent in his leadership decisions.
“We need good people in government, and good government needs good people. I believe I am a good person since I have been elected to be a leader in groups. I have the temperament to serve,” he told the audience.
Wilkin cited his leadership skills of being a past county board member and understanding the budget process and his economic background.
Joe Birkey (Republican)
Birkey, born in Walnut and who now lives in Princeton, has been a certified public accountant for 33 years.
He said he will be able to make sure the records are accurate of the county’s assets and reserves, and his involvement with local financial institutions will allow him to invest county funds, and his background will be able to produce financial reports.
Birkey said his qualifications and background show his love of number crunching and that he has the ability to work with payrolls and bookkeeping.
Biggest challenge that the candidates foresee
Wilkin said the biggest challenge he foresees if elected to the office is the collection of taxes and ensuring that tax bills go out in a timely manner.
He felt there should be a convenience fee started when property owners pay their taxes electronically with a credit or debit card to make sure the county doesn’t have to pay those extra costs when taxpayers use this option to pay for their real estate taxes.
He also feels he would like to talk to property owners who are on the cusp of defaulting in their taxes to see whether something can be done to help them prior to them defaulting, especially those on fixed incomes. He also wants to get tax dollars to other taxing bodies in the county as quickly and timely as possible more than one or two times a year, and balance this practice with the interest the county would lose by adopting that practice. Wilkin added that county funds need to be invested in the county to create more jobs and more tax dollars created.
Another challenge is to be transparent by allowing county residents and county board members to see how much monies are in certain line items of the budget on a monthly basis, which currently isn’t being done. He promised that this report would be available to county board members’ desks within three months of being elected to ensure tax dollars are being spent efficiently.
Birkey said one of the biggest challenges in the treasurer’s office is to provide continuity and stability due to a high turnover rate of employees in the past four years. If elected, he wants to expand full-time staff to allow the office to become more efficient in its operation. Currently, Birkey said the office has two part-time employees and a newly elected full-time employee.
He also cited challenges of the mandatory payroll conversion deadline of Jan. 1, 2019, and to streamline the county board packet and agenda for monthly meetings that is placed online to allow average persons to better understand the numbers and know about county finances.
Candidates study workings of the office and/or other counties prior to being elected
Birkey said he would job shadow other treasurers to learn about the office and to attend regular conferences of treasurers to learn about upcoming changes. Birkey said he can ask questions of former Treasurer Nina Urbanowski when issues arise. The staff needs to know what to do and have a boss who understands the proper working of the office.
Wilkin said he has talked to Putnam County Treasurer Kevin Kunkel and will attend meetings and conferences of the Illinois County Treasurers Association to learn more about the office. He has talked to current Treasurer Courtney Mabry abut what she has done to make the office more digital and to ensure greater transparency in how tax dollars are being spent on the county level.
Does political affiliation mean anything if elected?
Wilkin said political affiliation will stop the day after the election and that he will serve equally all parts of the county, whether they be Republican, Democrats or Independent. “We will serve all people,” he said. “The only question asked if someone walks into the office is “May I help you?’” he said.
Birkey said the county treasurer is a non-partisan position and should have no political agenda except to serve people, and people should vote on a candidate’s qualifications and skills and base their vote on that, not what political party they represent.
Would candidates become full-time county employees?
Wilkin said he would retire as a school counselor at Bureau Valley between first and second semester of the current school year to be fair to his current employer. Birkey said he would hire additional staff to work at his CPA practice while he serves as a full-time county treasurer.
Do federal, state politics affect Bureau County?
Wilkin said the trade war impacts corn and bean prices for Bureau County’s mainly agricultural economy by impacting landowners’ (particularly agricultural landowners) income and being able to pay their property taxes. Cuts in federal taxes hurt the local economy by placing more burden on property taxes with less federal funds trickling down to the county level to pay for mandated services.
At the state and federal level, Birkey said his motto is to vote regularly and be informed. “It is easy to sit back and complain about what is happening at the state and national level. You need to look at the candidates running for office, know their positions, and vote responsibly. You can make a change with your vote,” he said.
In response to an audience member asking candidates whether they favor term limits on the county level, Wilkin said term limits are called elections. If voters don’t like the job an elected official is doing, they can vote them out. Birkey said on a county level, the county treasurer position is non-partisan. If they are doing their job correctly and efficiently, term limits is not an issue. “We have an election every four years, and if a person is not doing their job, we have a chance to not vote for them,” he said.