The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
CAMPAIGN 2013: New leadership coming to city treasury post
Next Tuesday, Fredericksburg voters will choose a new treasurer for the first time in more than four decades.
The choice is between Brenda A. Wood, who is Treasurer G.M. “Jim” Haney’s chief deputy and handpicked successor, and Rita E. Girard, office manager for city Commonwealth’s Attorney LaBravia J. Jenkins.
Haney, 81, announced this spring that he would retire at the end of the year when his term ends. He has served since 1970.
Wood, 58, has worked in the city treasurer’s office for the past 12 years, serving as chief deputy the last four.
Girard, 60, has spent the last four years in the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office as office manager.
Neither woman has been elected to public office before. Voters will choose between a candidate offering a seamless transition and one who wants to bring change.
“I think the experience I bring to the office is critical to the continuity of things,” Wood said.
But Girard said that’s precisely why voters should cast their ballots for her, calling change long overdue. She said it’s time to make the office’s technology more user-friendly, improve customer service and overhaul how customers are notified before their water service is cut off.
“I believe it will take someone with strong management and vision to do that, and I believe that is me,” Girard said.
Wood also wants to update some of the office’s operations including implementing electronic billing and expanding options for online payments.
She said she’d like to offer city residents an opt-in for electronic billing, which would save the city postage and make it more convenient for busy commuter households to pay bills on time.
She also said she’d like to expand online payments to include the purchase of dog licenses. An innovation she’d like to implement is a program for people to create escrow-type accounts for their tax bills so the money would be there by the time they come due.
Wood and Girard both want to bill for personal property tax twice a year so people can better budget.
Girard said the online programs for city bill-paying are inefficient and difficult to navigate. She said she would use her fresh perspective to address such issues.
She’s aware of people running into problems with what should be simple online transactions such as Virginia Railway Express parking passes and researching information on their personal property tax bills.
She also said the delay between when someone makes an electronic check transfer and when the money arrives in city coffers often results in people’s payments being considered late.
But her biggest goal is to change the way people are notified when they are behind on their water bills so customers aren’t cut off without plenty of warning.
Wood said the job requires strong cash management skills, knowledge of government finance and accounting, and empathy in dealing with taxpayers who are struggling to pay their bills.
She said her dozen years in the office and training courses specific to the job give her the expertise needed to do the job.
She also said the office’s record of clean audits and its high collection rate for personal property and real estate taxes show she can do the job.
But Girard said her experience overseeing the prosecutor’s office provides an equally strong track record.
“The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office is as complex as the Treasurer’s Office in a different vein,” Girard said. She oversees a $1 million annual budget, handles all of the financial reports and payroll for 16 employees, interacts with information technology staff and is exposed to legal issues.
She said she understands the laws related to the roles and responsibilities of the treasurer, having recently completed that course and two others on governmental accounting through the Treasurers’ Association of Virginia.
Girard owns a condo in Cobblestone where she has lived since December 2010.
Wood moved into the city on June 1, 10 days before the filing deadline and 15 days after Haney announced his retirement and endorsement of her as his successor.
Wood moved from her home of 18 years in Hamlin Hills community in southern Stafford County into a house less than half the size owned by Haney’s daughter and her partner.
Wood said the decision to run for office happened so quickly she and her husband didn’t have time to buy a house in the city, but they have wanted to do that for a long time and plan to do so regardless of the outcome of next week’s treasurer’s race.
Virginia law requires candidates to be qualified to vote in the jurisdiction in which they seek to hold office.
In addition to Haney, Wood’s supporters include Commissioner of Revenue Lois B. Jacob.
Girard’s supporters include city Commonwealth’s Attorney Jenkins, Sheriff Paul W. Higgs, and Circuit Court Clerk Jeff Small.
CLARIFICATION: Fredericksburg Sheriff Paul W. Higgs said he is neutral in the city treasurer’s race, though he has made supportive comments about both candidates.
Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972
The following races are on the Nov. 5 ballot in the city of Fredericksburg.
Rita E. Girard
Brenda A. Wood
Paul W. Higgs
Ron A. Swaney
LaBravia J. Jenkins is unopposed
Commissioner of Revenue
Lois B. Jacob is unopposed