Budgeting money, time

Sunday, January 28, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:49 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Auditor June Pitchford is hard at work at her desk, putting the fin-ishing touches on a 2007 spending plan for the county that probably will exceed $50 million for the first time. It’s the 16th budget Pitchford has put together since she was first elected in 1990.

“The same cycle comes back every year,” she said.

Pitchford said “every budget has its own personality. Even if some elements become more stable and predictable, new challenges appear every year. That’s what keeps the job interesting.”

Crafting the budget is the auditor’s big-gest responsibility. Every year, Pitchford must carefully study economic trends — vehicle sales, building permits, sales tax collections, general growth — so she can accurately project revenue and expenses.

“The idea is to evaluate the state of the local economy,” she said. She also must consider budget requests made by office-holders and departments.

Budgeting consumes about half of Pitchford’s time on the job. She also is responsible for accounts payable, financial planning, property control and tracking county inventories.

When Pitchford became auditor in 1991, she had one computer that four people shared. Budget requests were written by hand. “Then, a person from my office had to write everything down on a spreadsheet. Now, everything is done online.”

Today, anyone can examine the county’s annual budgets and financial reports on the auditor’s Web site. “None of that was possible previously,” she said.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Pitchford’s devotion. Johnson, the county recorder of deeds, said Pitchford “is very dedicated to what she believes the job of auditor should be, even if I don’t always agree with her.” As head of the budget, Pitchford occasionally pulls rank with her colleagues. While her budgets are subject to approval by the commission, she stands her ground when she thinks commissioners are off base. For example, 11 years ago she refused commissioners’ requests for individual government cars. It didn’t matter that all three commissioners were Democrats like her.


Pictured here in 1990, June Pitchford says she thinks every budget has its own personality, which keeps her job as auditor interesting. (Missourian file photo)

“I try to be nonpartisan and nonpolitical,” she said.

Pitchford, 47, is now in her fifth term.

Her office offers a hint of her personal life and history. Diplomas show she graduated with a degree in business administration from Stephens College in 1981 and with a master’s in accounting in 1990. A poster from a 1995 Monet exhibit in Chicago reminds her of her favorite college class, art history.

She also has pictures of her twins, one boy and one girl, now 15, and her daughter, a 19-year-old ballet dancer who is pursuing degrees in dance and in pre-med.

Pitchford has taken county finances to a new level. In 1997, the county for the first time won a Distinguished Budget Presentation Award from the national Government Finance Officers Association — an award it’s won every year since. But Pitchford is modest about her accomplish-ments.

“All of our offices are working to do better than average -- to excel. It’s not only my office,” she said.

“My office is one of the internal organs of the county. That’s why it’s rarely in the public spotlight,” she said.

“Some people call and make accusations about some county employees doing this or that or with questions about county projects or county spending,” she said. “Some are just venting. But most are (in) search of information. For many people, the auditor’s office seems to be a reasonable office to call with a complaint or to obtain information about county finances.”

Pitchford said she could remain county auditor until she retires or she might explore other opportunities once her children leave home. Whatever happens, her time as auditor will remain an important part of her life. “This job has been the biggest civics lesson of my life,” she said.

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