It’s been sort of quiet during the first two weeks of Michael Stinziano’s first term as Franklin County auditor.
He’s had a couple of community meetings — one in Olde Towne East, the other on the Hilltop — to introduce himself, answer questions and hand out his email address and cellphone number to residents.
Stinziano is getting to know his new staff, half or more of whom have worked in the auditor’s office for decades, and he’s working on a list of strategic goals he’d like to accomplish before summer.
He’s also playing host to nearly a dozen sessions across the county to accept challenges from property owners unhappy with revaluations of their properties (and the resulting tax bills).
It’s new stuff for Stinziano, the first Democratic county auditor in 80 years. But it’s sort of old hat, too, for the former Columbus city councilman.
“It feels good to be back in county government,” he said.
Stinziano, 39, is a Columbus native — he can see Mount Carmel West, the hospital where he was born, from his new office on the 21st floor of the county administration building. His father served in the state legislature for 21 years.
In 2008, Stinziano was named director of the Franklin County Board of Elections. He served as a state representative for the 18th District in Columbus from 2011-16 before his stint on city council.
In the November general election, he defeated incumbent Republican Clarence Mingo.
As Franklin County auditor, Stinziano oversees about 200 employees and an annual budget of $19 million to $24 million. He also heads the county automatic data processing board, which makes decisions about the information technology systems used by various agencies.
Among other duties, the auditor’s office is responsible for setting real estate values for about 435,000 parcels in the county, with triennial reappraisals. A round of the latter was completed recently, and Stinziano’s office is accepting formal challenges through April 1.
He’s hired someone to focus on open-government issues, with hopes of making valuations, tax bills and other data more accessible to the public.
The auditor’s office also handles landlord property registrations, with a registry of about 75,000 entries. Among Stinziano’s priorities for his first term is making that information more available in a “user-friendly database.”
His office also handles dog licenses, which have been lagging. Only 29 percent of Franklin County’s dog owners obtained the required 2019 tags by the Jan. 31 deadline, down from 36 percent in 2018, and the number of licenses has been on the decline for several years. Mingo attributed the drop, in part, to the increase in registration costs to $18 from $12 back in 2014 for spayed or neutered dogs and some other categories of canines, and to $35 from $24 for others.
Stinziano is considering increasing the number of locations where dog licenses can be renewed and pursuing other initiatives to increase participation. Meanwhile, the county is in the process of sending delinquency notices to past dog owners, more than 20,000 of whom who registered last year had not done so as of March 1.
“I don’t think just sending a mailer is sufficient,” he said. “The old model clearly isn’t successful in terms of continuing to get the participation rates we need and desire.”
Stinziano, whose salary is $93,000 a year, plans to continue weekly community meetings around town, sessions in which he makes himself available to residents who want to talk about any issue.
“Generally, I think people just appreciate being out in their neighborhood and an opportunity to get to know their elected official better,” he said.
While the office is an elected one involving party affiliations, Stinziano said much of his new role as auditor is nonpartisan.
“There was no Democratic or Republican way to fix a pothole,” he said of his former city council position. “A lot of the challenges we have in the auditor’s office, there aren’t partisan lenses to accomplish it.”