Headed for his new office in the Warren County Municipal Center, county Treasurer Michael Swan walked past two photographs on the wall in the Center’s southern hallway. The images were portraits of the only two prior county treasurers since the Fab Four sparked Beatlemania in 1964 by releasing “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” John Wertime served as county Treasurer from January 1964 through 1999, and Frank O’Keefe served in the post from 2000 through December 2011.
Just days after taking over from O’Keefe, Swan talked Jan. 5 of his plans to launch some changes. He offered details of the initiatives as he gazed out a 12-foot-long picture window in his new office into a landscaped courtyard. The ambiance of his office contrasts to his prior workspace — the office of the Director of Real Property services — a room which is windowless.
Swan was settling into his new digs and routine as the Warren County Treasurer, following the retirement of Frank O'Keefe and Swan's convincing election win in November in a race against O'Keefe's son Michael.
On Jan. 1, he took the oath of office – surrounded by family and friends – at the home of his 94-year-old mother.
In his first day in office Jan. 3, Swan met with staff and gave them a pep talk, he recalled this week.
“I told them all to keep up the great work,” he said.
His first objective in office, he said this week, is to fulfill his campaign promises – to overhaul the Treasurer's office website and provide comprehensive information on county finances and taxes directly to the public.
He said he'd be meeting with county Information Technology employees to take preliminary steps to accomplish these changes.
He's also been briefing Treasurer's Department employees on the information he'd like to have included in monthly in-depth reports to the county Board of Supervisors.
While O’Keefe began the practice of providing detailed information on cash flow, tax receipts and budget expenditures on a regular basis — Swan said this week he plans to expand on the practice.
Swan also said he would soon be taking steps toward fulfilling other campaign promises, and both need to have local laws changed to enact them. County leaders have to date expressed support for Swan’s initiatives.
The easiest to accomplish might be the ability to accept credit and debit cards and electronic money transfers for tax payments.
The second initiative is establishing the opportunity for citizens pay for taxes — from one to three years in arrears — in installments.
Existing laws only allow property owners to pay their back taxes after their current year's taxes are paid up – and taxes must be paid in one lump sum for a year's liability, even if the sum is staggering.
Now, only citizens behind by three years on their taxes are eligible to negotiate a payment program for the old balance due.
This initiative of partial payments was criticized by Swan’s political opponent in the fall campaign. Michael O’Keefe suggested that it would slow down collections of overdue taxes by the county and hurt revenues.
Others countered that it would boost revenues by helping people catch up. Slower collections, they also noted, prompt fines and interest earnings by the time the total due is paid, yielding higher earnings for the county.
While Swan’s focus has been on pursuing some radical changes, the tradition of the office is impressive, the new Treasurer said this week.
“It's humbling to follow in the footsteps of John Wertime and Frank O'Keefe, considering their accomplishments,” he said.