County treasurer to bow out early

Mary Underwood

Photo by Clarke Davis
Jefferson County Treasurer Mary Underwood


by Clarke Davis
Jefferson County Treasurer Mary Underwood does not know what it’s like not to go to work everyday, but she will soon have the chance to find out.
The treasurer has resigned her office and her last day will be March 25 — Good Friday. She plans to catch up on things around the house and “be a grandmother.”
She is currently serving her fourth term and is up for election this year. She will soon be 62 and wants time off.
Underwood resigned by sending a letter to Gov. Sam Brownback and informing the county election officer, Linda Buttron. That process activates the local Republican precinct committee people to begin the process of choosing her replacement.
“It’s actually harder getting out than it was getting in,” Underwood said.
She has endorsed her deputy, Lisa Buerman, a 14-year veteran of the office, to be her replacement. The Republican Central Committee will meet in Oskaloosa March 8 to hear from the candidates and fill the office.
Underwood said it’s not a job that someone from the outside can really walk into. She had almost 16 years’ experience working in other county offices and thought, “This will be a pud.”
“Oh, my! The first couple of years I thought ‘You’re an idiot.’ There’s nothing easy about it,” she said.
The county treasurer shoulders the responsibility of collecting $23 million each year for approximately 100 taxing units in Jefferson County. The office makes five distributions of tax dollars back to these units annually. The office is also the central accounting office for the county expenditures and generates reports for the auditors and the county commissioners.
“Lots of bookkeeping,” she said.
New tax system software was installed in 2010 that has been beneficial in generating reports and serving online customers.
The second major responsibility is handling 30,000 motor vehicle transactions each year. Many of the car tag renewals are handled online or by mail, but lines can still grow long at times.
“Not a good idea to wait till the last day,” she said. “We encourage people to come early in the month because the lines grow longer toward the end of the month.”
A new statewide motor vehicle system was put in place in 2012 that pushed a lot of the vehicle registration work onto the county that was once done by the state.
“We do nearly all the work now but we did not receive any more money,” she said. “It does make the wait time longer.”
Underwood has been an active member and is a former treasurer of the Kansas County Treasurers Association. She said one of their most important tasks is watching the Legislature and trying to stave off any more unfunded mandates.
A bill that concerns her now before the Legislature is one that would allow the state to notify car owners of their renewal each year on a postcard. It would save the state money, but the person getting the notice would not be informed of the amounts due and Underwood knows it would cause her office to field a lot of calls and have to provide the information the state now provides.
The office has handled five delinquent tax sales since she became treasurer and another one is slated to be held about the time she will be departing.
The office now has an escrow payment plan in place to help a few people who might otherwise lose their real estate because of upaid back taxes. Under the program, a property owner can sign a contract with the county promising to pay the back taxes over a 36-month period and in so doing keep the property out of the tax sale.
“The program is only for real estate and not personal property,” she said.
Underwood came to the office with 15 years of experience working in other county offices. She began in November 1984 in the appraiser’s office and was there for the start of the new statewide reappraisal system.
She became the head mapper for reappraisal working out of the now demolished annex that stood on the west side of the square in Oskaloosa.
“I loved it. It was fun,” she said. “It was all fun until we had hearings to support our values.” There were big changes and a lot of values were increased.
Underwood worked with Delia Heston and when Heston was elected Register of Deeds she became her deputy. In 1999 the late Carolyn Casebier resigned from the treasurer’s office and Underwood was chosen to be her replacement by the Republican Central Committee. Her appointment was made official by then Gov. Bill Graves.
The treasurer is highly complimentary of her staff of seven that gets the work done and waits on the public.
“The office is only as good as the people you hire. They all know when they come to work they are going to be friendly, cheerful and go above and beyond,” she said
And what about that occasional grumpy taxpayer?
“Well the people who come in, I don’t care how grumpy they are, they are paying our wages,” she said.
Most people know and understand what the taxes are doing for them, she said naming ambulance service, law enforcement, and good roads.
Underwood (nee Erhart) is a native of the Boyle area and a 1972 graduate of Jefferson County North High School—JCN’s first graduating class.
She and her husband, Steve, raised two children and have four grandchildren. Steve is employed on the Kansas Turnpike and works out of the Bonner Springs area.
“I was asked to give a job description recently,” Mary said, “It’s anything that comes across my desk or the phone.”
The treasurer’s office is kind of a central place and fields all kinds of calls. “But I work for the taxpayer and if I can help them, I will help them. I might not know the answer, but I’ll try to find it for them,” she said. “And my staff will do the same.”

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Posted by on Mar 9 2016. Filed under The Independent, The Vindicator. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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