Ken Wilson

Hocking County Auditor Kenneth R. Wilson talks Tuesday about his time in office.

LOGAN – If longevity in office reflects job performance for an elected official, it appears Hocking County Auditor Kenneth R. Wilson must be doing something right. He is now in his seventh four-year term; the last time he ran, in 2018, he won with nearly two-thirds of the countywide vote.

Wilson recently announced, however, that he won’t seek re-election in 2022. The Logan Daily News sat down with him on Tuesday to look back on his nearly three decades of service.

In his time in office, Wilson said, he has worked hard to be accessible and visible to people across the county.

“As I’ve said many times over, you’ve got to earn this job, because you only have a four year cycle,” he said. “So I’ve never been opposed to going to township meetings, village council meetings, obviously county commissioner meetings, constantly, and being a part of the community. And trying to find other opportunities to go out and see people, so they can ask questions. I’ve tried to go to the senior citizen meetings in Laurelville, Murray City, things like that over the years, to try to be available to the public.”

The function of the auditor’s office that’s best known to the general public is probably its involvement with real estate valuation, with its impact on home values and property taxes. But Wilson pointed out that the office serves in a number of other capacities as well.

“We also process and handle all the county’s financial transactions, pay all the county bills, pay all the county employees,” he noted. “We’re about as close to a human relations office as there is at the county level. And then we deal with all those incidental things that go along with county employee benefits and that sort of thing. Health insurance.”

His office has even been involved, along with the county sheriff’s office, in a project to inspect gas pumps for card skimmers, devices that thieves attach to the pumps to steal credit card data.

“I’ve said over the years that it seems like when the (Ohio) General Assembly doesn’t know what to do with something new, (they say), ‘Let’s hand it off to the auditor’s office and see how well they can deal with that,’” Wilson observed. “But this office does have a lot of variety within it.”

Since first taking office in 1994, what is the most significant change he’s seen in the auditor’s job?

“The demand on public services,” Wilson answered. “That’s a very broad scope of an answer, because there’s more challenges for services through 911, more challenges through EMS, more challenges through the sheriff, the courts and all the type of cases and situations they’re involved in. There’s the search for money outside of just constantly going for tax levies – trying to find grants, resources, that would be not your typical kind of resource. So, the availability of money. Part of the negative side to that has been the state of Ohio and the General Assembly, and how they have tried to balance their budget, because there are monies through the state of Ohio that are also channeled to local governments. And through the years that number has been changed, as far as what kind of revenue we get.” This money squeeze, he said, has meant that officials at the county level need to be “a little bit smarter” about both finding alternate revenue sources and controlling spending.

Wilson said as auditor he has tried to be alert to funding opportunities not only for his office, but for any county office.

“If I’m at regional meetings or conferences, and I hear there’s a pot of money that (you can access) if you’re going to do something with developing roads or infrastructure, when I come back, I think OK, who’s in that area?” he explained. “And I try to pass information on to them. I may not be the one that ultimately is going to do anything with it. But I can give them a heads up – there’s a webinar, there’s a seminar, there’s a workshop.”

Asked to identify what he’s proudest of in his time as auditor, Wilson said that in his role on the county budget commission he’s worked hard to make sure the county commission has all the financial data – including forward-looking projections – that it needs to make smart spending decisions. (The county’s general fund, he said, is around $11 million.)

“I do a lot of number crunching in trying to follow trends, whether it be in our revenue sources, or looking at the expense side – how well are we monitoring what we’re spending?” he said. “I file reports with the commissioners every month – especially with the county general fund, because it impacts so much of our county operations – that show where we are every month, a month to date compared to the last four years… So the role I think I’ve played along the way is really trying to give solid, verifiable financial advice so that when the commissioners project expenditures, they’ve got revenue numbers that will back up and support those things.”

Asked to cite an innovation he’s made during his tenure, Wilson pointed to a modernization of real estate record keeping that has also improved transparency.

“During the early 2000s and really right up until now, we moved from having paper maps and Mylar fabric type maps to computer digitized mapping,” he said. “This is so that the general public can, through the internet, access these records and files. We’ve been gradually doing that over on the budgetary finance piece, so that we’ve made these records public through the county’s website.”

What prompted his decision to retire?

“There’s that old adage that says you’ll know when the time’s right,” he said. “By the time I’m finished with this term of office, I’ll be 72 years old. My wife is retired, and there are some things we would like to do while we’re both still in good health. And there’s always those little things that any of us would like to spend a little more time with.” For Wilson these include, in no particular order, playing music, playing horseshoes, playing cards, helping his wife garden and landscape their property, assisting his “91 years young” mother, Mary Wilson, and taking walks with the family’s dog Buddha and cat Zeke.

He finished with praise for his office team, both current and past.

“Without a doubt, this job cannot be done by one person,” he said. “I have been blessed with staff over the years that are people who have the best interests of the county in mind, but also need a job. These are people that learn as they go and then they make the operation that much better over time… They don’t all cross-train for everything, but they have different strengths. Maybe there’s a project happening that needs extra help, and they’ll jump in… I’m just tremendously blessed by the people that have worked here with me.”

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