New treasurer Pam Ferrell seeks tax accountability
Jan 23, 2014 at 8:27 AM
She’s not greedy. Rather, new Erie County treasurer Pam Ferrell just seeks what rightfully is owed to local schools and governments dependent upon taxpayer dollars.
Ferrell identified her top two priorities when she entered office earlier this month: decrease the number of delinquent parcels, and add money back onto the tax roll.
She filled a vacancy left by former treasurer Jo Dee Fantozz, a Democrat, who abruptly retired in December because of health reasons. Fantozz served 12 years in office.
The Erie County Democratic Party appointed Ferrell to serve as treasurer, a $53,000-a-year position, until voters choose a successor in an election later this year.
Party officials determined Ferrell is a suitable replacement, given her 17 years as an Erie County auditor’s office employee. She specialized in handling real estate transactions and understanding tax bills, certainly key skills for a treasurer.
Ferrell is responsible for collecting and safekeeping local taxes, including property taxes.
In a recent interview with the Register, she discussed her motives and other issues, including why the auditor fired her in 2011 and whether a conflict of interest could arise because she’s married to county commissioner Tom Ferrell.
Q: Why do you want this position?
PF: The Erie County Democratic Party approached me and asked me to do it because of my background, and I said ‘yes’
Q: Why is this position important to you?
PF: This is how everything is funded. The investments we make, the money we collect from taxes, this is how (local tax-dependent agencies) operate.
Q: A treasurer’s office employee stole $147,000 in 250 separate instances from 2005 to 2009. What are you doing to ensure taxpayer theft doesn’t occur in this office under your watch?
PF: I’m going through all bank statements each month to make sure everything balances out. Just like a regular checkbook, I’m making sure every single thing that’s turned in to us is exactly what it should be.
Q: Entering 2013, almost 2,300 parcels — 5 percent of all parcels in Erie County — were tax delinquent, equating to almost $10.7 million owed to the county treasurer’s office. This is money school districts and other governments need for operations. How do you feel about this, and what’s your plan to drive these figures down?
PF: We are going to file and foreclose on more properties. If you notice, when the levies come up, the schools over and over again are asking for money. If we were getting this money owed to us, would they need to put that big of a levy on or even place a levy on the ballot at all? And if the levy is approved, people will have to pay more in taxes — but the people not paying their taxes, they still won’t pay anything. That’s not right.
Q: A major revenue source for Erie County is investment income, where governments can use a certain portion of taxpayer funds to buy into low-risk, low-yielding bonds and CDs. In recent past, however, the average return on investments has plummeted. What will you do improve this return?
PF: (Our representative) is going to start calling me when there are better deals available. I will move as quick as possible to see if we can get better rates.
Q: Erie County auditor Rick Jeffrey, a Republican, fired you from your job in the auditor’s office in July 2011. What happened?
PF: I was let go. I don’t know why.
Note: Jeffrey has consistently refused to tell the Register why he fired Ferrell.
Q: How will you deal with Rick now, since the auditor and treasurer must collaborate on tax-related issues?
PF: It’s not going to be an issue.
Q: Your husband, Tom Ferrell, is an Erie County commissioner. Will there be a conflict of interest there?
PF: The only thing I deal with him on is the budget, which is once a year. He will not vote on my budget. It’s not going to be an issue for much longer since he’s not running for county office again.
Q: What’s something you want to improve upon in your office?
PF: The office runs great, the people are good and they know their job. But we are understaffed. We have three full-time employees plus me. I’m meeting with county commissioners to see what we can do.