ALPENA - The race to become the new treasurer of Alpena County between Kim Ludlow and Keith Maskell could be the most important of all the contests voters decide on during the Nov. 6 general election. The winner will replace long-time Treasurer Joelynn McCallum and will have to help the county combat declining revenue and a budget deficit, which is eating away at the general fund balance.
Maskell said a series of events led him to run for treasurer. He said after he graduated from Central Michigan University with a major in personal financial planning and a minor in economics he took a position with a respected investment company, but still longed to move back to Alpena. He said when news broke about McCallum's retirement at the end of the year, he thought it only made sense for him to run for the position.
"It all clicked when I read the story about her retiring," Maskell said. "I have always been really good at numbers and my schooling and past experience fits well, so I was like this is what I need to do."
Ludlow and her husband ran a small business in Hillman and she currently works for Carmeuse Corporation in Rogers City. She said her experience in both will help her to be a good treasurer. She said no matter who wins it will be a challenge to replace McCallum because of her experience with county matters. She said she has been doing her best to get acquainted with the county's finances for months.
"I would be thrilled to take on the challenge and I'm up for it," Ludlow said. "I used all of my vacation time to be able to come to the finance meetings and the commissioners meetings and I went to the property tax sale to sort of see how those went, so I have been doing what I can to get ready.
Maskell has also been attending meetings and has spent time in McCallum's office asking questions and seeking advice. He said because he ran unopposed during the primary election he had a hard time getting his message across to voters, but now his campaign is picking up steam. He said some people questioned his youth and dedication after he announced his intention to run. He said he never would have run if he didn't intend to give the county and the tax payers his all.
"I'm a younger guy and the public eye seemed to ask is this kid serious," Maskell said. "I tell them absolutely I'm serious. I want to be recognized as a serious candidate and someone who is going to be serious about this job and judiciary of the county's funds and a public servant. I think the more people see me and hear me speak it erases some of their concerns and now I'm picking up momentum."
Both candidates say a steady decline in tax revenues in the county is having a negative impact on today's budget and those yet to come. Maskell said Alpena County is currently better off than others in the state, but if it doesn't continue to mind it's Ps and Qs, finances could shift backwards in a hurry.
"There is still a huge concern with finances because we are looking at quite a shortfall for next year and some big decision will gave to be made," Maskell said. "It is going to be hard, because we are going to be starting in a deficit again and dipping back into the fund balance. This can only go on for so long. Our investments are bring paltry returns back and it is just another case where we need increase revenue any way we can and be sure expenditures are as low as we can get them. I want to work with the commissioners and department heads to accomplish this."
Ludlow agreed with Maskell. She said as costs climb the budget is going to continue to take hits.
"As revenues get smaller and smaller and spending gets higher and higher, adjustments are going to have to be made, " Ludlow said. "We are going to have to watch things very closely."
Both Maskell and Ludlow said they intend to retain the staff that is working under McCallum and will rely on their expertise to have a smooth transition. Maskell said if he wins he will begin the transition the day after the election.
"On Nov. 7 I will go into the office and sit down with them for a half hour and mull over and talk over things we think should happen. I will be spending as much time there as I can to get accustomed with things," Maskell said. "I believe a leader is strong when he is able to follow and I am going to have to do that. I know it is going to be important for me to be open to suggestions, constructive criticism and I want the people in the office to know they are going to be a big part of what I am wanting to happen. Everybody is going to have to come together and it will be a community effort."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5689.