McLean County’s treasurer is touting her experience in leading the office as she seeks four more years, while her opponent in the Nov. 6 election would like to see the office take a larger role in reigning in the county’s spending.
Republican Rebecca McNeil, 48, of Normal has been the county’s treasurer since she was appointed to the post in 2003. She’s since been elected to the post four times.
McNeil said the office is “extremely busy,” handling tax and fee collections and distribution for about 200 taxing bodies, along with the county’s investments and payroll for the county’s 800 employees. This year, the office took over the county’s accounts payable from the county auditor, a move which brought three additional employees.
“Given the in-depth responsibility, I personally think that the position needs to have someone with an educational background,” McNeil said, adding she has a master’s degree in economics from Western Illinois University.
Libertarian challenger Lex Green has been a party activist for a decade. Green, 64, is a retired electrician who worked at the former Mitsubishi Motors plant in Normal. He ran for governor in 2010 when Democrat Pat Quinn narrowly defeated Republican State Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington. He also ran for Bloomington mayor in 2013 when Tari Renner was elected.
Green was the former state Libertarian Party chairman and previously served as its treasurer.
He offered no criticism of how McNeil has run the office, but suggests he could run it better.
“A lot of people say, why would you run if the office is being done competently? I think when I ran for governor, somebody said what’s wrong with your opponent? My answer was, what’s wrong with me?”
Green acknowledged the county treasurer is largely an administrative position but said he believes there is room for the office holder to advise the county more on budget matters. When that time comes, he said he would advise the county to be more critical of how it spends money.
“There will be ample opportunity to say, ‘Hey, instead of trying to increase taxes or trying to do some kind of financing scheme that proposes to increase revenue to the county, why don’t we look at what things we can do to cut?’ “Green said. “That doesn’t work into the job description of what the treasurer needs to do, but if the treasurer has an opportunity, he or she should express an opinion.”
McNeil said it’s not the treasurer’s role to tell the County Board how to spend money, adding the office is just one piece to the county’s financial puzzle.
“The common misconception is that the county treasurer is in charge of all of the county government’s finances,” McNeil said. “That is not true because unlike the City of Bloomington or the Town of Normal that has a finance department, McLean County government has other finance offices.”
That includes the county auditor’s office, which provides oversight of the county’s finances and the county administration which oversees budgeting for 30 county departments.
McNeil said she doesn’t believe all financial matters should be under the treasurer’s control.
“Having things separated, everybody has an opportunity to take a look at it and having multiple people involved in the process also keeps everyone knowledgeable as to what is going on at the county level,” McNeil said.
When asked what specifically he would cut, the Libertarian Green acknowledged much of the county’s major projects in recent years, including the jail expansion, can’t be undone.
“I don’t see that there is a lot of low-hanging fruit so to speak,” Green said. “We are building the new jail, we’ve got things institutionally put in place that are continuing and we are coming off of that decade of reduced property values.”
Green suggested the county has taken on too large a role in addressing mental health needs. In 2014, the McLean County Board created the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council with the goal to better help those with mental health problems.
“Some of this ball has already started rolling,” Green said. “Once you get the county government doing this, then it becomes pretty hard to pull it back.”
McNeil said the treasurer's office's role it to monitor key sources of revenue, from local and state sources and to provide monthly reports to the County Board Finance Committee, to help guide the county's budgeting.
“I think that the County Board is kept informed very well and I think that the County Administrator (Bill Wasson) is also kept informed very well and is very much in tune with what’s going in,” McNeil said.
McNeil said the treasurer’s office has worked to become accessible around the clock by offering many of its forms on its website. She added the county is working to move toward a paperless option within the next few years.
“It’s all in an effort to serve the taxpayer to give them options,” McNeil said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all operation. Our taxpayers, some of them are not involved in technology and they still want to receive that paper bill in the mail.”
Green is the only Libertarian seeking countywide office in McLean County. The party was assured a spot on the ballot for the 2018 elections in McLean County after presidential candidate Gary Johnson secured 6 percent of the vote in 2016.
Green needs to secure at least 5 percent of the vote for the Libertarians to ensure ballot access in 2020.
“This is a good thing for me in that even if I lose I win because I am advocating for the Libertarians and the cause that I believe in,” Green declared. “Certainly it would be even better to be that elected officer and be able to extend that voice even farther.”
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