Home Social Justice County Auditor Jill Thompson talks about her time since taking office

County Auditor Jill Thompson talks about her time since taking office

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Fourteen years ago, at this time, county officials were relying on cardstock to organize financial information. As one might imagine, that is no longer the case behind the doors of 15 S. Court St.

This is thanks, in part, to Athens County Auditor Jill Thompson, who has been a proponent of advancing technology in her office to realize what she describes as her ultimate goal of making government more transparent. In her fourth term as county auditor, Thompson said she is still enthusiastic about the job.

“What I love about this job is that the auditor’s office has so many resources available to it,” she said. “And what I’ve tried to do in my term as auditor is expand the opportunity for people to have access to that information.”

Thompson (R), who is running for re-election against Athens City Auditor Kathy Hecht (D), wants voters to know her office has been engaged in helping the 14 townships, eight villages and two cities it oversees.

She was appointed in October 2000 and has since won re-election in 2002, 2006 and 2010. A 1992 alumna of Ohio University, Thompson was no stranger to Athens County government upon assuming her role. She took on the position of Deputy Auditor in the County Auditor’s office immediately after graduating, working in the Real Estate Division.

Among the county auditor’s responsibilities are accounting for financial records, maintaining the Geographic Information System (GIS) for digital mapping, regulating weights and measures sales and providing dog tags as required.

In each of these areas, Thompson believes she has made significant progress and is anticipating more opportunities for growth.

With regard to accounting, one of Thompson’s proudest achievements is bringing the Popular Annual Financial Report (PAFR) to Athens County. The PAFR, a condensed version of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), was introduced in 2004 as a means of clarifying to the public how county revenue is managed.

The reasons for bringing this to Athens County were fairly straightforward. Thompson described the more extensive CAFR, saying, “(It) is a lot to read when you look at the county and somebody just wants to know where the money is coming from and where the money is going (to).”

Inside the PAFR, readers can browse sections entitled “Where the Dollars Come From” and “Where the Dollars Go,” topics that are supplemented with colorful illustrations. The concept of a PAFR was devised in the early 1990s by the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA), an organization with which Thompson has professional affiliations.

Thompson has been active with a number of establishments, including the County Auditor’s Association of Ohio (which recognized her with the Distinguished Auditor’s Award on three separate occasions), Auditor of State Regional Advisory Council, and the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce. From her experiences with these bodies, Thompson has been able to implement new ideas for her work in county government.

The Geographic Information Systems (GIS) division is another example of how 21st century advents have been implemented into the office to aid both county officials and the citizens they serve.

The fate of GIS was uncertain in 2009 when commissioners pulled it from the Engineer’s Office. In 2010, the Auditor’s Office adopted the program and has since partnered with the Ohio Statewide Imagery Program to ensure the maps of Athens County are of high quality.

The division, supervised by Ben Abfall, is primarily responsible for developing digital maps through aerial photography. These maps, which in their current form come in three inch and six inch pixel resolutions, are used by the Auditor’s Office as a basis for taxation.

Data collected from the GIS program can be used to resolve any misconceptions that might arise with regard to real estate property assessments.

“People can go into the website day or night, you can see the sketch, you can see the sales data, you can see a lot of information (on) there,” said Thompson. “And that way if we have it wrong, you know what to argue. You can actually ask good questions based on the information — the attributes — that we have.”

Additionally, as maps are continuously updated, the Auditor’s Office can detect any mismatches when comparing previous maps with newer ones. This allows them to identify buildings that have been destroyed and develop increasingly accurate sketches of county properties.

GIS is reflective of the mass movement to automation in county officials’ offices. A new web-based system has been used recently to manage financial data. However, as Thompson points out, the web-based system currently being used hasn’t always been available to those managing county governments.

The entity responsible for developing this system originally only conducted business with municipal governments. Thompson partnered with Pickaway County to arrange a beta version of the website for both counties at a reduced cost. So far, Thompson characterizes the system as a success.

“It makes information available to other departments so they can have relevant, current, timely data to make decisions with,” Thompson said. “I think it makes us more efficient as a county. It also extends information and resources out to other government entities to help them make better decisions on their end before they even interface with our office.”

Her hope is that, given its positive results, the system will eventually be sold to other county governments as well.

Thompson also spoke on the topic of using her staff’s IT skills in a way that is beneficial to other county workers. Rather than seeking help elsewhere, a lot of Thompson’s staff has been able to fix online glitches for other departments, namely the Clerk of Courts, through basic troubleshooting. This offered assistance has saved the county money, she said.

In addition to looking at property assessments online, citizens have now also had the opportunity to register for dog tags from home as well. This has meant that fewer and fewer Athens County residents have had to make a trip to the County Auditor’s Office, which has in turn led to fewer and fewer late registration fees.

Perhaps in contrast to Thompson’s appreciation for Internet resources, the vast majority of her fall campaign has been conducted through face-to-face interaction with voters. Whether it is on the sidelines of one of her son’s games or through the door-to-door campaigning since June, Thompson uses these conversations to collect input from residents.

“I want to hear what we’re doing right. I want to hear what we need to improve on,” Thompson said.

She explained how she has noticed citizens struggle when it comes to networking with their government. As a result, she has prioritized making it clear who to go to for particular issues.

Thompson put simply, “We’ve done a lot.” Although, she insists there is more work to do.

“I don’t ever think government (can) be transparent enough to be able to make sure that people understand what we do, why we do it, and what our role is.”

An example of that forward-mindedness can be found in the Auditor’s Office’s move to LeanOhio, a system of streamlining processes in government offices to improve their efficiency. Thompson, along with other local officials, recently attended a “boot camp” to learn more about the program.

As helpful as automation and technology have been in disseminating material to the public, Thompson is excited about the prospect of doing more.

“I’m always a forward-looking person. And I’m task oriented,” said Thompson. “I’m not sitting back looking at those things. I’m looking at what else we still have to do.”

 

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