By Rhonda Petersen
A rancher and housewife faces the deputy auditor in the race for Hill County auditor.
Republican Gail Solomon is running against Democrat Kathy Olson for a four-year term as Hill County auditor. Democratic incumbent Mary Ann Trumpour decided against seeking a third term as Hill County auditor.
According to Trumpour, the auditor's office audits the finances of all county departments. The auditor's office also processes the payroll for all county employees. Also, departments submit claims to the auditor's office and the office reviews the claims and then issues checks to pay the claims. She said the auditor's office also enrolls employees in the county's health insurance program and administers county benefits like 401(k) and cafeteria plans.
Solomon, 54, is running for political office for the first time. She was born in Havre and raised on the ranch of her parents, Ray and Helen Kallenberger, south of Havre. She graduated from Box Elder High School and later attended Northern Montana College for 1 years, where she took mainly business classes. She has been married since 1979 to Ted Solomon and has two children, son Chancin and daughter Denali.
Ted Solomon is the Republican nominee in state Senate District 46. She said it has been "exciting, busy, and a real learning experience" to have two political candidates in the family at the same time.
Solomon said she decided to run for Hill County auditor because she was interested in county government and wanted to serve the community. She said she believes the position of auditor is a good match for her years of experience as a bookkeeper.
Solomon's bookkeeping experience began in 1969 when she went to work as an administrative assistant for the state Rehabilitation Office. She said that during her 10 years on the job she was responsible for both bookkeeping and clerical duties. After she married, she left her job but continued gaining accounting experience as bookkeeper for a variety of businesses her husband owned and operated, including the family ranch, an aerial spraying/crop dusting company, an oil and gas exploration company, a fire equipment business, and a sports fishing/fish brokering business.
"I've had to reconcile accounts, file workman compensation reports, insurance claims, year-end tax reports, and payroll."
If elected auditor, Solomon said, she would continue to assist her husband with the bookkeeping duties for his businesses.
Solomon's opponent, Kathy Olson, is also running for political office for the first time. Olson, 37, was born in Great Falls. She moved to Havre when she was in high school and graduated from Havre High School. Olson has been married for 12 years and is the mother of an infant son. Olson's husband, Larry, works for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway.
Olson attended MSU-Northern where she earned a four-year business degree in 1996. She has worked for Hill County for the last 12 years, working part time for six years in the Clerk and Recorder's Office before going to work full time in the auditor's office. For the last four years, Olson has served as deputy auditor.
Olson said she decided to run for Hill County auditor because it was the "natural career progression." The auditor's office is staffed by only two employees. As a result, the auditor and the deputy auditor must both know how to handle the job responsibilities of auditor, she said.
Because of the relatively small population of Hill County, the auditor has multiple duties such as accounts payable, payroll and health insurance enrollment, that aren't technically part of the legal job description of auditor. Legally the auditor is required to conduct quarterly audits of the financial records for all county departments.
Olson said that during her 12 years as a county employee she has learned valuable hands-on experience in government accounting.
"The basis of accounting for government is very different from private enterprise," she said. She added that the county auditor's office uses software programs specifically designed for government accounting.
Olson believes that her experience working in the auditor's office is her biggest advantage over her opponent.
"You need to work it to know it," she said. "This is not a job you can just walk in and learn."
If elected, Olson said one of her first duties as auditor would be to hire and train a new deputy.
The auditor will earn an annual salary of $32,423.68.