County candidates ready for primary

Treasurer, Attorney, Auditor-Recorder talk responsibilities, 2018 election

Running unchallenged in the upcoming June 5 primary isn’t stopping three Marshall County elective office holders from engaging voters.

Those three officials are Marshall County Auditor and Recorder Nan Benson, Treasurer Jarret Heil and Attorney Jennifer Miller. All three are Republicans who are currently unchallenged to be elected to their respective seats.

Auditor-Recorder

Washington Township resident Nan Benson was appointed to her seat by the Marshall County Board of Supervisors in October of 2017, and she said she is excited to run for office for the first time.

“I’m still going to campaign and get out there, I do want to meet people,” she said. “Mostly, I’m going to focus on elections; I really want to get people voting.”

While Benson’s office has a wide range of responsibilities as only one of two combined auditor and recorder positions in the state, she said elections is the easiest one for county residents to play a part in.

“It’s easy, it really is an easy thing to do,” she said, adding 2018 will be a phase-in year for newly-passed changes to the state’s election laws. This year, she said voters can bring in several forms of identification, including a driver’s license, military ID or U.S. passport to be able to vote.

Benson said if a potential voter does not have such an ID when they come to vote this year, they can sign an oath swearing to their identity as an eligible voter.

She pointed to recent city elections, including the most recent city council election decided by just two votes, as proof of how important it is for voters to cast their ballots. Benson added she is also looking for more people to help conduct elections around the county, and added such positions come with pay.

Outside of elections, she said her office takes care of human resources for the county, and acts as the holder of several types of records; those were areas she would also like to keep working on in the position.

One area of focus is the department’s personnel policy manual.

“We’re really hoping that is completed before election time, but that is something that is always a work in progress,” Benson said. “We’re also working on the job descriptions; there are a lot of HR things that have not been done, some training, all internal things for our employees that need to be tackled.”

Digitizing records is another areas of focus for the auditor-recorder’s office.

“We’ve done a lot of house cleaning, and trying to get things a little bit more organized,” Benson said. “With the new technologies, we can scan old documents; getting things scanned, backed up.”

The information housed by the recorder’s office includes property records and historic data used by genealogists, among other things.

Overall, Benson said she looks forward to continuing her work if she is re-elected to the office.

“There are always ways to meet more people, so if anybody would like to have me come out to any clubs or civic events or anything, I’d be happy to do so,” she said. “I’m really enjoying my job; there’s not a single day I’ve been bored, there’s also something new.”

Treasurer

Jarret Heil of Haverhill said he is proud of his accomplishments as county treasurer since being elected to the seat in 2010.

“I like being here, it’s a wonderful job, getting to engage with people on a daily basis,” he said. “It’s just an opportunity to serve and do things I enjoy: county investments, customer service with both the property tax and motor vehicle (matters).”

Heil said people aren’t always happy to pay taxes or fees, but giving customers a good experience makes a difference.

“Nobody wants to pay property taxes, nobody likes registering (and) titling vehicles, it is not something that people are loving to come to our office for,” he said. “So, we have to offer good customer service, and excellent experience for people to come in and … have the trust in government be high.”

Despite perhaps not being as prominent as other local elective offices, Heil said the treasurer’s job is important, not only for the county but for other government entities.

“It’s probably more under-the-radar than other positions,” he said, adding the county treasurer’s office is in charge of collecting property taxes and doling them out correctly to different entities.

“All that is tied into one, we collect it, and then we disperse it according to the correct percentages of the amount,” Heil said. “There’s reliance on us to do the job, and do it right, and we’ve done that.”

During his time in office, he said he’s worked hard on some accomplishments.

“I’ve been president of the County Treasurers Association,” Heil said. “I chair our legislative liaison team for the county treasurers.”

In that capacity, he said he has worked to get helpful legislation passed at the Iowa State Capitol.

“Getting electronic titling started; it’s not anything we have going on here in Marshall County yet,” Heil said as one example, adding that program is currently being piloted at an auto dealership in Polk County. “Basically, what that means is the timing between when that dealership gets the paperwork, instead of them having to physically bring it to us, it can be electronically sent in to us.”

With instant communication between the county and a dealership, he customers can get their titles more quickly when purchasing a new vehicle.

A second piece of legislation Heil worked to get passed had to do with use tax at a local home rental business about four years ago.

“They had an issue with their rental trailers,” he said. “Basically, there was a mix-up with the (Iowa) Department of Revenue; they were essentially getting double-taxed on the rental trailers when the trailers were being rented.”

Heil said the Department of Revenue told both his office and the business that there was no need to pay a use tax.

“Then they came back, did an audit, reviewed exactly what the code said, and figured out that, through the rules, they were telling us wrong, they were telling (the business owner) wrong,” he said, adding the department then attempted to perform an audit and charge back fees. “So, we helped get legislation that cleared it up, that they don’t have to pay that use tax, and then the tax that ends up getting collected is every time they rent it, there’s a tax on the rent.”

Heil also said he is focused on increasing efficiency in the treasurer’s office, including using employee turnover in the past few years to consolidate a position, and using technology to help with tax sale work.

Above all, he said he wants to continue serving the county he grew up in if he is re-elected in 2018.

Attorney

The 2018 election won’t be anything new for Jennifer Miller as she runs for her fourth term as the county’s chief law enforcement official.

“The Marshall County Attorney’s Office prosecutes all criminal actions in Marshall County, that’s the majority of where our time is spent,” she said. “That could be everything from a simple traffic violation to a murder charge.”

But that’s not all the county attorney’s office oversees.

“In addition to that, we do all the juvenile court delinquencies, we Child in Need of Assistance cases, we do mental health commitments, we advise the board of supervisors or the other department heads on civil issues,” Miller said. “We have about 85 enumerated duties in the (Iowa) Code.”

She said there are some accomplishments over the past several at the office that she is proud of.

“One of the things I’m particularly proud about is our collections program that we started, for debt collection,” Miller said. “That is a program that is about 10 years old now, and when I started it I discovered there was $12 million owed in unpaid fines in Marshall County, and nobody was really doing anything about it.”

The solution came in the form of payment plans for those who owed money to the county.

“There was some legislation that, in exchange … for us collecting court fines, the county would get a percentage of that,” Miller said. “We’ve collected about $3 million in 10 years … we’ve brought about $1 million of that into the county, that goes right into the general fund.”

In addition to continuing the collections program, she said she would also like to expand the county’s victim-witness program.

“When I started in 2002, we didn’t have a victim-witness program, so I hired a victim-witness coordinator,” Miller said. “We’re working with about 400-500 victims right now, so it’s very difficult, we only have one person to do that … we could really use another individual to assist in that.”

Since the program began, she said over 5,000 victims in Marshall County have been served.

“That’s really been my focus, I would say, since I’ve been the county attorney, is helping victims of crime in the county,” Miller said, adding she hopes to get another position added as soon as she can if she is re-elected.

Benson, Heil and Miller will appear on the Republican Party ballot during the June 5 primary election. For more information on the election, call 641-754-6323 or visit www.co.marshall.ia.us/departments/auditor/election/

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Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com