La Plata County Treasurer Allison Aichele rebuffed criticisms about her leadership by Democratic challenger Tim Walsworth during a candidate forum Thursday night.
The two Democratic candidates are in the only contested race in the La Plata County primary in June. The winner will face Republican Colton Black in the November election.
Nearly 50 people showed up at the La Plata County Fairgrounds to hear the candidate forum between Aichele, elected to the position in 2014, and Walsworth, executive director of the Durango Business Improvement District.
The candidates remarked that while the race for treasurer isn’t as high profile as other elected positions, the job is an important one, essentially serving as the bank for La Plata County.
Aichele argued that in her time as treasurer, she has turned around an office that lacked proper training and operated on outdated technology.
“What I have done for the county Treasurer’s Office is what I’m most proud of,” Aichele said. “We now have qualified accountants and technology in place.”
Her opponent cautioned voters that mistakes made during the past few years at the Treasurer’s Office have cost La Plata County valuable money at a time when the county faces unprecedented revenue shortfalls.
Walsworth said the county paid an extra $48,000 in audit fees because of errors under Aichele’s watch. The Durango Herald was unable to confirm this figure late Thursday, but over the past year, the county has approved additional audit costs.
In March 2017, issues surfaced at the Treasurer’s Office, forcing the county that year to pay $12,000 for an independent company to perform an audit to find where errors and inconsistencies occurred.
The review found rampant errors in processing and booking, yet no evidence of wrongdoing.
“Because of some errors that occurred in this office,” Walsworth said, “we are paying higher audit fees in a time of declining revenues.”
Aichele, however, has chalked up these issues to understaffing, outdated technology and workload. Since the issues came to light last year, Aichele has said many of them have been resolved.
A follow-up audit to be released in the coming weeks is expected to go into greater detail about the current state of the Treasurer’s Office.
Thursday night, though, Aichele took responsibility for errors made.
“Did we make errors along the way?” she said. “Yes … but we’ve been using technology to help make this go better so you can prevent the errors or detect them faster the next day.”
For much of the forum, the candidates touted their experience and went into details about how they would lead the Treasurer’s Office.
Walsworth said he has 15 years in public service in Durango. He said the core of the treasurer’s job is to get financial policies and procedures right and recruit and retain employees qualified for the position.
Aichele said she has taken great strides to learn all aspects of the job. She highlighted that her focus since taking over in 2014 has been to improve employees’ accounting and technology skills.
Both candidates stressed the need to become more innovative in their ability to invest county funds to generate revenue for the county.
Several people spoken to after the forum expressed support for Aichele, based on her experience and her ability to fix issues that surfaced.
“It’s almost impossible to have a perfect score,” said Durango resident Lon Erwin. “It’s a learning experience, and it’s about how you improve yourself.”