It’s only two months into Debbie Knick’s tenure as the treasurer of Rappahannock County, but the treasurer’s office has undergone dramatic changes — in physical appearance, technology and other areas.
The first thing Knick and her staff set about doing, she says from her new office, was reorganizing the office itself and clearing out 50-plus years worth of paperwork and boxes. Knick, a longtime admirer of the position, took over from Frances Foster on June 1; Foster stepped down this spring after 52 years of service.
“I had to go through every single piece of paper,” Knick says, a process which not only resulted in more office space, but in the discovery of a number of relics of Rappahannock’s tax-collecting past. In the corner of Knick’s new office, which is now on the right as you enter the front door, sits a small desk displaying a variety of old tax notices, including some even before Foster’s time.
“I’ve enjoyed it,” Knick adds. “It’s different, but not necessarily in a negative way . . . It’s certainly been busy, but I think when people come in, they’ll be greeted with a smile.”
Knick says she and her staff completed two audits in the first two months — one by the state’s auditor and a second by Robinson, Farmer and Cox, the county’s auditing firm. “All the delinquent or outstanding items — everything mentioned in those reports — has been taken care of,” Knick says proudly.
Knick then turned her attention to Keystone, the new tax assessment, billing and recording software system the county has been trying to fully activate since 2013. Knick and her staff spent time updating the new system with all the tax-related transactions from last November through May. As she reported to the supervisors at their meeting early this month, only June’s transactions are left to record.
The office is now running both the new and old systems, Knick says, because parts of the old system are still in use at the revenue commissioner’s office. The dual-system approach also gives Knick time to ensure everyone is properly trained and that Keystone is fully functional before a September switch to Keystone exclusively. “It’ll be ready in time to run the new tax bills,” she adds.
In addition to replacing two desktop computers that were incompatible with the Keystone software, Knick says she’s purchased a three-in-one printer/scanner/copier to replace the office’s older printers and copying machine.
“We were burning up those little HP printers before,” Knick says, noting that the office went through six ink cartridges trying to print last year’s tax forms. Along with two new check scanners that eliminate the need for hand-carried deposits, the equipment will “help save us money in the long run,” Knick adds.
“The check scanners should also help with the cash flow issues that reared their ugly head last fall,” Knick says, referring to issues with the office’s new accounting software that made it impossible last fall to send out tax bills as early as in previous years. This, combined with the county’s reduced budget surplus, forced the county to borrow $1 million to help cover payroll and other costs last October.
Two months ago, Knick also began delivering weekly cash-flow reports to County Administrator John McCarthy, which include the county’s current cash balances — something that hadn’t been done before. “The reporting is still being developed,” Knick says, adding that she’d also like to expand the reports to eventually include comparisons to “where we were this time last year.”
“I’d just like to see us be more proactive, and less reactive.”
Her efforts are appreciated by the county’s supervisors, says chairman Roger Welch. “I’ve been on the board 17 years . . . and this the first time we’ve had a treasurer’s report at our meetings. It gives us a better idea of how to conduct business, and that makes for better government.”
Knick’s spring cleaning hasn’t just applied to administrative tasks, as she also turned her eye toward revamping the county’s online services and credit card processing. Knick switched the processing to PayGov, a firm that specializes in handling payments made to government agencies. The office is now accepting credit card payments over the phone, Knick notes, and has added American Express to the cards accepted (formerly Mastercard, Visa and Discover).
The office also sports a redesigned page on the county’s website, designed “to help field some of the calls we get,” Knick says. The site currently lists due dates for personal property and real estate taxes, as well as contact information, and how to avoid penalties.
“This will be expanded as I have the time,” Knick says.
Visitors might also notice on that web page the option to pay their taxes online — a first for the county. Knick says she also plans to expand online offerings to allow taxpayers to access their current and past tax bills. “That won’t be active this year though,” Knick says.
To further the office’s accessibility — a priority for her, Knick notes — Knick will be expanding the office’s hours during tax season, staying open till 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursday Oct. 1 through Dec. 19. She’s also considering adding weekend hours — likely from 8 to noon every other Saturday.
“If I find there’s a need for us to be open one Saturday a month, we may do that,” Knick says. “What I’ve found is that there are a lot of people who don’t work in the county [who have forms to file and payments to make]. We want to give them other avenues . . . and be accessible to them when they need us.”
Despite everything she’s accomplished in two months, Knick says there’s still more to be done. “There are a lot of things I still want to get accomplished . . . I want to use our new system to its fullest capacity . . . get the biggest bang for our buck. There’s a lot more I want to do.
“It’s a job I’ve always wanted, and I’m still grateful for the opportunity,” Knick says. “I want to make the most of it. It’s been fun . . . I may be here for 12 hours at a time, but the next morning I still come in with a smile on my face.”