Karen Sheaffer steps down as Eagle County treasurer
Karen Sheaffer Accomplishments
• Two–time recipient of Outstanding Treasurer of the Year from the Colorado County Treasurers’ Association
• Seven awards from the National Association of County Officials in recognition of customer service and improved office procedures
• Winner of the prestigious Eagle Award from the International Association for Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials and Treasurers recognizing her process for collecting delinquent personal and mobile home taxes
• Past president of the International Association for Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials and Treasurers
• Past president of the Colorado County Treasurers Association
• Board member for COLOTRUST, the largest pool fund investment of the state of Colorado.
EAGLE — It’s no exaggeration to say an era is ending at the Eagle County Treasurer’s Office.
On Dec. 31, after more than 27 years with the county, Eagle County Treasurer Karen Sheaffer will officially retire. She is leaving the office she was successfully elected to six times. What’s more, she never faced an opponent in any of those elections. That’s quite a record, especially considering her job involved collecting more than $164 million in property taxes annually.
Sheaffer’s successful operations philosophy is simple — be fair and treat everyone the same.
“We don’t so special favors for special people because everyone is special,” she said.
Sheaffer began work at the Eagle County Treasurer’s Office shortly after moving to Gypsum in 1987. Her first boss was longtime Treasurer Mary Walker. She did venture out to the private sector for a short time, but she eventually returned to the county office. She had been at the office for 10 years when then-Treasurer Sherry Brandon resigned.
“It was very sudden,” said Sheaffer. She noted a local newspaper had run a story in its Wednesday edition regarding how Brandon had moved her primary residence outside of the county. “She walked in on Monday morning and handed in her resignation. I was in shock,” Sheaffer said.
However, Sheaffer was already mulling a plan to run for treasurer in the next election, so when the county commissioners advertised for applications to appoint someone to the post, she gathered a dozen recommendations from local bankers and other entities that did business with the treasurer’s office. She was appointed to serve out the remaining year of Brandon’s term.
When she took over the job, Sheaffer resolved to put what she had learned from her two bosses to work.
“Mary was a very hands-on treasurer and Sherry was more of a manager. I learned a lot from both of them,” Sheaffer said.
In terms of how she ran her office, Schaeffer said her goal was to ensure good customer service.
“We do such a variety of activities … and your customers shouldn’t have to come back and visit a second or third time,” she said. “I have always thought the staff I had at the time was the best staff I ever had, but then someone would leave and the new person brought in different expertise,” she said.
What the law says
When it comes to the operation of the county treasurer’s office, Sheaffer noted Colorado law clearly states what needs to happen. So while the staff is willing to work with customers to help them fix their issues, there really isn’t latitude in how the tax-collecting job is done.
“I always told people that I don’t make the rules, but I follow them,” said Sheaffer.
Under her leadership, the county had a 99 percent property tax collection record. Sheaffer believes good communication is the key to that statistic.
“If people know what their responsibilities are, they at least have some options,” said Sheaffer. “I have learned it’s better to call people in advance. It doesn’t get any easier with time.”
At times, she has had to work through some pretty large disputes. At one point, Vail Resorts was at odds with the treasurer’s office regarding its $6 million property tax bill.
“When a company is going to pay $6 million in taxes, it is in your best interest to work with them,” Sheaffer said. She was able to set up a payment program with the company, but she stressed the size of the payments was the main difference between that agreement and the type of agreement her office regularly works out with individuals.
“We just try to do everything right and help people to fix their issues,” she said.
And then there is the sign.
For years the infamous sign was propped up in the treasurer’s office, and it announced that a premises was closed and its assets had been seized because of its unpaid tax bill. Sheaffer explained that the sign would signify a business had gone a full three years without payment. That would be three years of bills, phone calls and other contacts from her office.
“If you haven’t paid your property taxes in three years, someone isn’t paying attention,” she said. “In 21 years, I never had to use that sign.”
The good and the bad
As with any job, Sheaffer said there were things she loved about being treasurer and things she won’t miss when she steps down.
“I am a creature of habit. … In this office you do the same thing every year. You would think it would bet boring, but it doesn’t,” she said. “I liked the process and learning new things.”
“The hardest part of this job is no matter what happens, it is my fault,” she said. “I am the one who had the title. I am one with the resources.”
The very nature of tax collecting means Sheaffer had to deal with plenty of angry people through the years, but again, she stressed her go to strategy was simply to let people know the rules and to then enforcement in a fair manner. She is confident that philosophy will continue.
Sheaffer said longtime Deputy County Treasurer Mari Renzelman will take over her title. She said Renzelman has been the point person for the office’s new computer system and is well positioned to lead the treasurer’s team.
“I am going to retire from public life and political life,” said Sheaffer. “I just want to be a grandma.”
She has also purchased a season ski pass because her retirement will not take her away from the area.
“Eagle County is my home. My husband and I moved here when my kids were just 5 years old and 8 years old,” she said.
As she leaves the office she has held for more than two decades, Sheaffer knows things are in good hands so her parting advice is something her staff has already heard, many times.
“Consistency and fairness — that’s the two things I always fell back on,” she said.
More than a decade and a half ago, Kobe Bryant came to the Vail Valley quietly. Fourteen months later, he left the same way. In the middle was … well … a media circus.