Westerberg focuses on short, long term plans as new treasurer

Berzins thanks voters, supporters

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Democratic candidate Michael Westerberg is Arapahoe County’s new treasurer, according to the unofficial election results. Westerberg defeated Republican candidate Marsha Berzins.

“It’s kind of surreal,” Westerberg said during the Arapahoe County Democratic Party’s Election Night Party on Nov. 8, as the early county election results showed he was in the lead. 

Democrats performed well in the Arapahoe County races. Besides Westerberg, incumbent Sheriff Tyler Brown was reelected, Joan Lopez will return as county clerk and Kelly Lear was reelected coroner.

“I’ve been in Colorado for three or four cycles now, and I’ve never seen us have this big of an early lead. It is just bizarre,” he said. “It’s nice to have a team, really — like, that's how you get stuff done.”

In reaction to the election results, Berzins, who served on the Aurora City Council from 2009 to 2021, posted a statement to Facebook on Nov. 9.

“I think one of the most important things a candidate can do is to listen to and respect the will of the voters,” Berzins said in the post. “This election didn’t quite turn out how we wanted and there will be time for reflection and understanding.”

In an email, Berzins said, “I’d like to thank my supporters, our volunteers and donors. It was an honor to run for a position to serve the community.”

What does the county treasurer do? 

The county treasurer is responsible for collecting, investing and disbursing county funds, according to the county’s website

The treasurer also collects property taxes and distributes the revenue to the county and other local governments and public entities, such as school districts, the website states.

Westerberg said one of the first things he’ll do when he takes office is assess how to modernize the payment system for property taxes. 

He said a few people expressed concerns and said they cannot make payments ahead of time nor schedule payments.  

“That’s the biggest thing I want to look at first. That’s first and foremost. That should be low-hanging fruit, if we can modernize that, that would be awesome,” he said. “I don’t know what state it’s in currently, so I’ll be looking into that.” 

Another priority for Westerberg is finding out what needs to be funded and ways to fund them, he said. 

Establishing a public bank 

Westerberg said his long-term goal of establishing a public bank in Arapahoe County still stands. 

“We’re going to look at how to get a public bank going, and that’s — probably will take one or two bills at the state (legislature), so looking at who can run those for me, and we’ll go from there,” he said. 

He thinks bills in the state legislature would be necessary given current regulations in the Colorado code. 

“Republicans will tell you that a public bank is unconstitutional,” he said. “That is not true. But the reason they think that is because there — the current code does not even consider that a public bank would be a thing. So, the regulations we’ve set up don’t consider it at all.”

Because of this, Westerberg said there will be some incongruencies, so there will have to be changes made to some regulations to make a public bank possible. 

In a previous interview with Colorado Community Media, Westerberg explained he’d like to follow the model of the Bank of North Dakota, a public bank that was established by the state legislature in 1919, according to the bank’s website

According to the Bank of North Dakota’s 2021 annual report, the state-owned bank reported a profit of $144.2 million in 2021 and the bank’s total assets at the end of the year were $10 billion. 

For TABOR considerations, the bank should probably be a separate public enterprise, Westerberg said, and not be operated through the Arapahoe County government. However, he said it may be beneficial for elected officials in Arapahoe County to recommend or appoint people to operate the enterprise. 

Following the North Dakota model, the bank would be a place where local credit unions and city governments could borrow from, Westerberg said, but it wouldn’t be a place where residents could walk in and deposit money like they do in their local bank. 

For example, if a person who is doing business with a local credit union takes out a small business loan, essentially half of the money would be put up by the credit union and the other half would be put up by the bank. 

Westerberg said this public bank model would generate more revenue in two main ways.

The first is that a public bank allows for Arapahoe County to generate interest on its funds. 

“Anything we’re not literally using right now to pay people is just sitting in a bank account,” he said. “If we are the owners of that bank account, we’re the public bank, we could take that money and invest it. So that way, the interest we get turns around and we can use in Arapahoe County, right, instead of it going to a big bank.” 

The second, and bigger, way to generate money is through loans, because the bank would get some of the interest being paid by the borrower, he said.  

If the public bank is run correctly, it could generate additional funds to help support county services and programs, Westerberg said. 

For example, if the stated purpose of the public enterprise was to generate funds for repairing roads, the Arapahoe County’s general budget wouldn’t have to dedicate as much money towards road repairs, since it’ll be partially covered by the bank. 

This helps free up some money in the general fund to be spent elsewhere, Westerberg said. 

“The one thing you hear in Arapahoe County is there’s not enough money to go around,” he said. “There are needs, that we really want to provide services to the community and to do it better.”

Marsha Berzins; michael westerberg, arapahoe county elections; arapahoe county treasurer

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