CROWN POINT — Since taking office in 2016, Crown Point Clerk-Treasurer Kristie Dressel has dramatically increased the interest earnings from the city's accounts with local banks.
"The clerk-treasurer's job is to invest the city's money," Dressel said following a presentation to the City Council recently on the changes she's made since taking office.
"When I took office, I went to the banks and asked them to give us the best interest rates they could for the city."
Dressel said the city has roughly $27 million in accounts with two banks at any given time. One account is for daily use in paying bills while the other is for longer-term use, but the city has access to it at any time. In the three years prior to her taking office, the city earned between $40,000 and $60,000 a year in interest.
Her first year as clerk-treasurer the amount rose to almost $76,000. In 2017 the earnings jumped to almost $232,000, and this year it was almost $537,000, about a sevenfold increase from just two years ago, and about 10 times the average of the previous three years.
"The money was in the same banks for the previous three years, and the interest was as low as 0.1 percent in one and 0.25 in the other. We wanted them to work with us as much as we wanted to work with them. It would help their business too," she said.
The bank with the lowest interest rate refused to change its earnings rate, so Dressel took the city's funds, about $13 million, out of the bank and deposited it in Centier, which offered 0.55 percent. The other bank is now out of business, she said.
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The remaining funds were in First Midwest Bank, which provided 1.1 percent in 2017, while First Merchants Bank took over for Centier with an interest rate of 1.19 percent.
This year the accounts were in Horizon, 1.98 percent, and First Midwest, 2.11 percent.
"You have to be aggressive," Dressel said, explaining that she sent letters and talked to the banks. "In January, I hope to add a third bank and deposit about $8 million with each."
Dressel also reported the amount the city collected for water utility shutoffs and for bad checks had dropped dramatically, especially beginning in 2012. The city averaged about $18,000 a year during the previous three years, but it dropped to $9,917 in 2013 and averaged about $2,000 a year for 2013-15. In 2016, it was just $640. That's when new controls were implemented to keep better track of payments.
Dressel said the state Board of Accounts did a special audit and found that some fees had been waived and other funds were unaccounted for dating back to 2013.
"We could not track some of the shut-off fees," she said. Asked if legal action against any past employees is expected, Dressel said, "The Board of Accounts is done, but I don't know what happens now (with the past uncollected funds). The revenues that were not being collected are now being collected and monitored monthly. This year is the first year there were no findings in the audit report, and the revenue is back up to previous levels."
Actually, it's a little higher. She said she expects collections to be about $22,000 this year (it already is more than $20,500), and the highest total for the past 10 years was $19,042 in 2009, the year revenue started to decline.