Rockford treasurer voted to position by peers
by BETH ALTENA
When Kim McKay hired on with the City of Rockford 14 years ago this past December, she was deputy treasurer. Today she is a woman wearing many professional hats with the local government and has been voted the next president of the Michigan Municipal Treasurers Association (MMTA).
The nonprofit organization of treasurers of cities, townships and other municipalities is over 800 members strong, and McKay can’t overemphasize how much help professionally the group has offered in her tenure. Starting out as deputy, with John Strauss treasurer, McKay was promoted when Strauss took a job with Kent County. Since, McKay has been doing the work you would expect as treasurer, collecting taxes, paying bills and filling out payroll checks for the City. Unlike larger cities, a treasurer in a town the size of Rockford finds other duties falling to her hands.
“Other treasurers look at me funny when I tell them some of my duties,” McKay shared.
Any visitor to the well-used Community Cabin on Monroe Street may admire the color scheme, new kitchen design and décor. That was McKay’s design. She also is responsible for the open-space, visitor-friendly look of City Hall itself.
“I’d love to get my hands on the old court building,” she confided.
Design and decoration skills aren’t typical on a treasurer’s resume, but local government sometimes has the luxury, or necessity, of making use of the skills available in its staff.
“We are all very cross-trained here,” McKay said of the City.
Responding to years-long revenue and state-shared funding cuts, Rockford has been decreasing personnel through attrition and consolidation of services. But even before having to tighten its belt financially, the City made good use of talent such as McKay’s. Any stroll through downtown during months of moderate weather proves the point. McKay has for years been the designer of the floral arrangements in the seasonal pots throughout the City.
“It’s been all the way down from the top,” McKay said of budget challenges. “We are still able to offer many services that other municipalities no longer can.”
McKay said offering leaf pick-up is still a huge service that some may take for granted. The City also continues to be supportive of the many festivals and events held in downtown annually, despite the costs associated.
“We have a really good relationship with our merchants,” McKay noted. In hearing tales of other communities, this is not always the case elsewhere.
In responding to financial challenges, duties even such as coming up with the design for City planters has changed. McKay said she used to go out and meet with the plant wholesalers to pick the annuals. Now, with 20 percent less full-time staff, all employees of the City have to be more careful about leaving work, even on work-related trips.
“That’s one thing I’ve noticed. I lot of time you used to be able to run out, and you just can’t do that anymore. Attending meetings and training is more of a struggle,” McKay explained.
McKay said another way her job differs compared to a treasurer in a bigger city is in helping staff with human resource issues. “That fell into my lap because I do payroll,” she explained. Employees with questions about benefits, retirement or insurance know to go to McKay for clarification or help.
The structure of cities varies from one to another depending on their charter. McKay said townships are often structured the same because it is spelled out by law how they must be organized, but cities can all be different, depending on how the founders wrote the charter. In Rockford, the city council, which is elected, advises the city manager. Rockford has 55 employees, 32 of which are full time.
McKay agreed that there are misconceptions about local government and she describes this as a “two-edged sword.”
“Sometimes residents don’t realize they can come to us for help,” McKay said. “We can sometimes do more than they think. On the other side, we sometimes take the heat for things that are dictated to us on a federal level. We are the first level of government people see. They aren’t going to be likely to see someone on the state level. We try to set the record straight with a smile.”
As president pro-tem of the MMTA, McKay is more than prepared to promote the group. “It is a great organization with great people.”
The MMTA holds conferences and institutes throughout the year designed to educate and inform treasurers as well as offer online and in-person support.
McKay said she joined shortly after coming to work for Rockford and has remained very involved. “I can’t say enough about it, how much that group has helped me professionally. That’s the purpose of it, to offer help to each other professionally.”
As for her work for the City, be it in picking out plants, redesigning public building spaces or keeping atop the accounts payable, despite change and challenge, it’s the job for her.
“I love working for the city,” McKay said. “It’s the best job I ever had.”