Sandra Kirkland has been handling finances much of her life.
“I was always interested in keeping track of money,” she said. As a child on a long car trip her mother handed her a notebook over the back seat of the family’s Buick and said, “Here, Sandy. You keep track of the expenses.”
“It just kind of grew from there,” Kirkland said.
For the past 28 years she’s been keeping track of money in a big way, millions of dollars in dozens of accounts. On Friday she’ll retire as Indiana County’s treasurer. She has held the office longer than anyone, now has the longest tenure of any of the county’s full-time row officers, was the first Democrat elected as Indiana County treasurer and only the second woman to hold the office.
“My dad built coal tipples, so we traveled wherever the coal fields were,” Kirkland said. She spent time in West Virginia and southern Illinois. “But we always came back to Blairsville,” the area she lives in today, she said.
She graduated from Blairsville High School in 1969 and first worked in restaurants and a bus station and at the former Homer City State Bank.
She was elected an auditor for Blacklick Township and then as the township’s tax collector. When she ran for a third term as tax collector she was a candidate for county treasurer at the same time.
“I won them both,” she said, and began a career in county government that has lasted nearly three decades.
She’s witnessed many changes in how the county handles its money.
“Technology is the biggest thing,” she said. “When I came here there were no computers at all. It was on the advice of the single audit firm the county had that we computerized the office.”
The computers were introduced to the treasurer’s office early in her first term and have greatly helped in tracking so much money flowing in and out of the county.
“Everything the county collects passes through here,” including fees collected by other row offices, she said. All the money goes into the county’s general fund or into specific accounts for various programs.
“When I first came here we were putting about $11 million through the general fund and now it’s $43 million,” she said. “When I came here we had 23 accounts and right now we have about 65. … At one point we had over 100.”
Her office also sells, issues and tracks thousands of hunting and fishing licenses, dog licenses, bingo and small games of chance licenses, boat transfers and sportsmen’s permits.
“Doe (hunting) licenses are the most numerous of all of them (12,000 to 14,000 annually) and dog licenses come in a close second (about 12,000 annually),” she said.
Kirkland is assisted by four full-time staff members and four part-timers she can call on at peak times.
The small games of chance licenses, Kirkland said, “are the bane of every treasurer’s office across the state. It’s very complicated” and the applicants have to meet requirements as a nonprofit, have been in existence more than a year, have bylaws and have a lease or rent agreement. The small games of chance licenses often are requested by fire departments, churches, school groups and booster organizations for fundraising activities.
The county treasurer also sits on the county’s Salary Board and Retirement Board, and Kirkland was the first Indiana County treasurer to participate on the Prison Board, which deliberates on issues at the county jail. The Prison Board members also tour the jail quarterly.
“I realized when I was a tax collector there needed to be a way we could all connect,” Kirkland said. “So when I got here (to the treasurer’s office) I formed the Tax Collectors Association which today is a very vibrant organization” of about 40 borough and township tax collectors in Indiana County who meet quarterly to network and assist each other.
Kirkland is also a former president of the County Treasurers Association of Pennsylvania, an organization that promotes networking among county treasurers and provides a venue for discussing statewide issues related to their offices.
During Kirkland’s tenure the treasurer’s office has had one of the most interesting decors in the courthouse.
“When I got here I wanted the office to look like what we do” — issuing hunting and fishing licenses and assisting sportsmen and women in other ways, she said. So she put up a large wall mural of whitetail deer in a woodland scene and then invited hunters in the county to put on display there some of their trophies.
“I got lots of responses” and the office today has a mounted whitetail doe and a large black bear. “At the time it was brought in it was the largest bear ever taken in Indiana County,” she said.
As Kirkland prepares to leave office she’s also standing by to assist in the transition to a new treasurer. Republican Kimberly McCullough, now a county auditor, will be sworn in as treasurer on Thursday.
“She and I have touched base several times. I’ve told her about things I’m doing,” Kirkland said.
The county commissioners have made provisions for Kirkland to come in for a limited amount of time to help McCullough as she takes over.
“I told her I’m willing to help her in any way she needs, but it’s at her request,” Kirkland said.
Kirkland has some surprising plans for her free time starting in January.
“I’m a bit of a carpenter and I started replacing all the woodwork in the house,” and wants to finish that project, she said.
Her father taught her how to prime a pump, how to start a lawnmower, how to change the oil in her car.
“I just have an interest in stuff like that, and sewing and knitting and painting,” she said. “I don’t lack for things to do.”
And she’s looking forward eventually to a cruise through the Panama Canal and up the West Coast, possibly to Vancouver, and then an overland drive back to Indiana County.
Kirkland said during her re-election campaigns that she’s proud of the fact that during her time as treasurer she’s never had an audit finding or discrepancies.
“I am proud of the advances I’ve made here,” especially in technology, she said. “I have always had a good working relationship with everybody here” in the courthouse. “I’ve enjoyed the interaction between the other offices and the friends I’ve made from the customers and the tax collectors” and others. “I think that’s what I might miss most — not seeing people all day long.”