Voters in next week's election will have to choose one of two experienced civil servants for the Indiana County treasurer's office.
The race pits Democratic incumbent Sandra Kirkland, 62, of Blacklick Township, against Republican challenger Helen D. Clark, a county auditor. Clark, 66, is an Indiana Borough resident.
The candidates are vying for a job that currently pays $49,136 annually, but carries multiples of that in terms of responsibility. The treasurer's primary job is to account for all county revenues, which this year are projected to amount to around $31.3 million. And that's just for the county's general operating fund. The figure doesn't include revenues in other special funds.
In addition, the treasurer sits on the county's salary, retirement and prison boards and issues dog licenses, hunting and fishing licenses, pistol permits, boat registrations and licenses for small games of chance and bingos.
Kirkland has been doing the job for nearly 24 years, six terms in office. If re-elected to seventh term, she will serve another four.
"I still enjoy the job and working with the people," she said. "I still feel like I have something to offer the county."
Prior to becoming treasurer, Kirkland served as the Blacklick Township tax collector for eight years and as a township auditor for one. She also has served on the board of directors for the Indiana County Blind Association and for the local chapter of the American Cancer Society.
Additionally, she and her husband run an alpaca farm.
Kirkland said she is proud that in the years she has served as treasurer, auditors reviewing the county's books haven't found any discrepancies or reported any significant findings.
Kirkland said her biggest accomplishments include the installation of a system allowing county residents to buy dog licenses online, having introduced computerized recordkeeping to the office and having brought direct deposit to county employees. Both, she said, have led to increases in efficiency for the county.
Clark said that although she has a little more than two years remaining on her term as auditor, she decided to run for a different office because she believed it was time for a change, she said.
"Although I enjoy my position as county auditor, I think it's time for me to move on to a different set of challenges."
She said she thinks it takes not only accounting skills but leadership ability to run the treasurer's office. And she has both, she said.
Clark holds a bachelor's degree in accounting from Bucknell University and a master's degree in elementary education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
She worked for a time as an auditor at what was then Ernst & Ernst in Pittsburgh, and later for the IRS. She also has served as treasurer for the First Baptist Church of Glen Campbell for more than 20 years.
Clark has been active civically, serving as president of the Indiana Arts Council and executive director of the Indiana County Humane Society. She also served with the Indiana Regional Medical Center Auxiliary.
Clark said that, if elected, she wouldn't make changes to the office staff. She wouldn't need to, she said, because the staffers do a superior job.
But she said she has found her opponent's interactions with customers to be less than friendly.
Kirkland disputes that criticism, saying that she and her office have a reputation for excellent and friendly customer service. In fact, she said people from other counties have told her that they come here to purchase licenses because her office is the friendliest around.
That aside, Clark said she believes Kirkland has been effective in her oversight of the money that flows through the office, something Kirkland has been touting as a reason for her re-election.
But Clark criticized Kirkland for using that in her campaign, saying the simple fact that one has done the job the job he or she is supposed to be doing isn't something that necessarily sets him or her apart from others.
But Kirkland said it makes nothing but sense to run on her past performance. She said Clark is making that an issue because she doesn't have a superior record of her own to highlight.
Despite the inherit disadvantage of running against an incumbent, Clark said she believes she has a good shot, given the results of the primary. With Clark and Kirkland running unopposed in their respective parties, Kirkland received 3,913 votes and Clark garnered 4,974 votes.
Clark said the results suggest to her that she was able in invigorate her fellow Republicans more so than Kirkland was able to invigorate her fellow Democrats.