3/26/2018 2:22:00 PM Norikane delivers first annual report as Auditor-Treasurer
MONICA LUNDQUIST Cass County Correspondent
BACKUS-Chief Financial Officer Sandra Norikane, who also is now auditor-treasurer, presented her annual report to the county board Tuesday.
She noted additional changes in that office have included appointing former Auditor-Treasurer Sharon Anderson as elections administrator and combining the payroll and human resources duties into one position.
The auditor-treasurer office serves as the main phone line to the courthouse in Walker. Norikane said the 2016 presidential elections caused the number of incoming phone calls to jump by about 1,000 in 2016 over 2015 to nearly 11,500.
That number was almost the same in 2017 due to inquiries about pre-paying property taxes to avoid losing that deduction under the federal tax law that takes effect this year.
People have pre-paid $2.4 million before Jan. 1 this year for 1,600 parcels. Additional people have prepaid almost another $2 million since Jan. 1, Norikane said. This has enabled the county to earn more interest on the county's investments than expected the early part of 2018, Chief Deputy Treasurer Karen Flier's records show.
Cass County has increased the use of automated clearing house payments to pay more vendors electronically, which in turn has helped drop the amount of outgoing mail the county sends.
It costs Cass County about $5 in supplies alone to issue a paper check and mail it, so electronic payments save the county significant money. Cass also is working toward electronic invoicing, too.
The peak year for outgoing mail was 2013 when 210,004 items were mailed. By 2017, the county also had cut the volume by 30,000 mailed pieces by having a contractor send its property tax statements. The 2017 volume was only about 100,000 mailed pieces.
Tax bills for this year will be mailed to property owners next week.
Cass had 28 land parcels go tax forfeit in 2017, of which two were severed mineral rights. Three forfeited parcels were repurchased within six months.
There were 71 confession of judgment parcels at the end of 2017, a net increase of five over 2016.
There were 41 tax abatements approved in 2017, resulting in $50,138 less taxes due to all districts receiving property taxes within the county. Two of these were stipulated by tax court.
Those abatements also led to a $4,812 tax increase on other properties where six parcels had previously omitted value.
People increasingly are paying property deed taxes and mortgage filing fees electronically rather than with paper documents. About 50 percent now use electronic filing for both.
Cass has seen a rise in death certificates issued from 786 in 2012 to 1,484 in 2017. This may be due in part to the fact that Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe works with one local funeral home to process all band member deaths whether or not the decedent lived in Cass before they died.
Cass recorded over 1,400 death certificates in 2014 after a steady rise from less than 1,000 in 2013.
Birth certificates peaked at close to 400 in 2015, but fell back closer to 300 in 2017.
The county issued very few auctioneer or mass gathering licenses in recent years and only about four or five for fireworks. Beer licenses have declined from a little over 30 to less than 30 in 2017.
Liquor licenses exceeded 45 in 2016, but dropped back to 40 in 2017. Tobacco license holders have been running under 40 since 2014, but were back up at about 46 in 2017.
Cass dropped its annual audit costs over $25,000 from the 2015 to 2016 audit by drafting its own financial audit report before the state auditor's office came to conduct the annual audit. Its cost on the 2016 audit ran $73,569.
The board voted Tuesday to engage the state auditor's office again this year to do the county's 2017 final audit review of the county-prepared audit report.
Cass maintains about $6 million at local financial institutions in checking, savings and certificates of deposit. The county had just over $70 million in assets, brokered by three national firms. Almost all investments have maturities of five years or less.
The county expects new election equipment to be purchased this year will need half the storage space of the old equipment, Norikane said.
The county board voted Tuesday to use $208,000 from unassigned fund balance in savings accounts to cover costs that exceeded the 2017 budget.
Second publication rights after Brainerd Dispatch.