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Stephenson passes treasurer torch

Barbara Stephenson discusses strategy with Vickie Fick, who will take over as Kitsap County treasurer until a permanent replacement is named.  - Charlie Bermant
Barbara Stephenson discusses strategy with Vickie Fick, who will take over as Kitsap County treasurer until a permanent replacement is named.
— image credit: Charlie Bermant

Kitsap County residents will receive their property tax statements next week in the trademark pink envelope — a traditional but ironic Valentine Day’s message.

This is also the last time the name of Treasurer Barbara Stephenson will be on the return address, since she is resigning this week to become financial services director for the city of Bremerton.

Stephenson was first elected in 2002 and ran unopposed in 2006.

Two months ago, she was planning to run for a third term and was developing plans for the election.

She was surprised by the offer from Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent, but it didn’t take long for her to say yes.

“I didn’t go after this job,” Stephenson said, “but I’m a person who never says never. When I worked for a bank, I never thought I would run for public office. But you never know when an opportunity will present itself.”

Stephenson was lauded for her service at Monday night’s meeting of the county commissioners, during which North Kitsap Commissioner Steve Bauer said she “had left the government in a better way than how she found it, which is the best measure of a public servant.”

In that respect, Stephenson has taken steps to increase the clarity of the property tax process and look for ways the Treasurer’s Office can become more efficient.

Under her supervision, the county began using a local bank instead of using a Seattle institution to manage its money, increasing convenience and benefiting the local economy.

She took an inventory of all the foreclosed property owned by the county, put it up for auction and converted it to the property tax rolls.

Most noticeably, she redesigned property tax bills to include the previous year’s amounts, giving homeowners immediate access to how the taxes have changed and why.

“We’re the only county in the state that provides this information,” Stephenson said. “This enhances the quality of the tax statement and shows taxpayers how much they’re spending and how it is being spent.”

Prior to running for treasurer, Stephenson worked in banking for 14 years, among other jobs.

“When you work in the private sector, your actions are geared toward making a profit for your employer,” she said. “In public service, much of what you do are things that the private sector does not to, so profit is not a consideration. But you face scrutiny from the public and the media and are always dealing with people who don’t like paying taxes.” 

Stephenson’s replacement will be selected by the county Democratic party, which will submit three names to the Kitsap commissioners.

The replacement will serve out the remainder of the term and run for election to a full term this fall.

According to Kitsap County Democratic Chairman Carl Olson, five people have shown interest, including former Poulsbo Mayor Kathryn Quade; 23rd District Chair Rob Gelder; Poulsbo CPA Meridith Green; Isaac Delgado; and, Daryl Daugs, a party activist who has run for state representative and mayor of Bremerton.

Stephenson said the position is not a political one and that any successful treasurer must have a strong financial background.

This is an obvious qualification, but she adds a belief in the importance of customer service and an ability to embrace and incorporate technology as requirements for success in the job.

Stephenson participated in a similar contest in 2007, when she was one of a dozen people who sought to replace North Kitsap County Commissioner Chris Endresen, who had resigned.

Stephenson was the only woman to show an interest and did not place in the top three.

“When I put myself forward for commissioner, it was at a time when I didn’t think anyone was really doing anything about budget issues,” she said. “That has changed today.”

She does not regret missing out on that particular job opportunity.

“Being a county commissioner is very tough,” she said. “You will get criticized no matter what you do.”

Stephenson’s last day will be Feb. 16. The next day there will be a farewell reception from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the Treasurer’s Office in Port Orchard.

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