Newly elected San Juan County Auditor Natasha Warmenhoven had wanted to be a veterinarian. After high school she enrolled in a pre-vet program when reality sunk in that despite her love of animals, veterinarian work wasn’t her passion.
“I signed up for community college classes. I took a bunch of different things since I suddenly didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Warmenhoven said. There were a few accountants and auditors she was close with, which made her think she might want to give that area a try. The variety of career possibilities in accounting also appealed to her. Warmenhoven excelled in the classes. “Science was a little bit of a struggle, but accounting came easily,” Warmenhoven laughed.
She still helps animals by volunteering for the Animal Protection Society – Friday Harbor and has fostered both kittens and puppies. She also has pets of her own, and when Warmenhoven isn’t in her office, she can be found walking her dogs on the beach.
The journey toward a career led her toward a hospital foundation job before heading into the government sector.
In 2019, she and her husband Chad moved to the island. His parents had lived on San Juan for a few years in the 90s. The family moved away but still held the place in their hearts. The couple vacationed in the county frequently.
“We always thought it was more of a pipe dream,” Warmenhoven said. Living in Seattle was not a good fit for the outdoorsy couple. They thought Bellingham might work out better when she got a job at the University of Washington’s Marine Laboratories in Friday Harbor in 2019. He was able to work remotely.
In 2020, she saw the ad for a Chief Deputy Auditor that appeared to be a perfect match for her, and once hired former Auditor Milene Henely became an instant mentor for her.
“Milene made it look so easy. She has so much institutional knowledge, state law in her head and at her fingertips,” Warmenhoven said.
She learned the customer service aspects, recording documents, renewing car tabs, dog licenses, and marriage licenses all as COVID struck.
“It was crazy the types of transactions we would see. People had clearly been sitting on these things for a while and finally had the time during lock-down to deal with them,” Warmenhoven said.
The Auditor’s Office, she added, is a catchall office. On the accounting side, the office handles the county’s financials, accounts payable, accounts payable for Junior Taxing Districts, payroll, grant disbursements, the budget, and manages the general ledger of expenses and receivables. The taxing districts include the hospital, school, fire, and cemetery.
There is also vehicle and vessel licensing, not driver’s licenses, marriage licenses and dog licenses. Previous to COVID Anacortes DMV would come to the islands and renew driver’s licenses and, according to Warmenhoven, they are trying to return that service. Meanwhile, there are at least two or three people a day that come to the Auditors expecting to be able to renew their driver’s license only to be turned away.
Dog tags are on sale until March 31. “It’s one of the fun things we get to do. We love it when people bring their dogs in,” Warmenhoven smiled.
Recording also falls under the array of tasks for the office. Legal documents, real estate transactions, easements, surveys and maps all are recorded.
The Auditor also ensures fair and impartial elections. “I’m very excited to learn more. We have a great staff and we have a really engaged community, one of the highest voter turnouts in the state, and people come in and watch us count the ballots,” she said. “It’s nice working in a community that cares so much.”
Both for the county and her office, one of the biggest upcoming challenges will be switching over to a new financing software. The new software is called Munis, and it includes not just financing but human resource tools and other bells and whistles that will assist all the county departments.
“I’m very excited, but it takes time. People get used to using certain equipment, so it’s going to be an adjustment for everyone.”
Staffing for the county will also be a challenge, not only with affordable housing issues but finding space for them to work. “We are running out of space,” Warmenhoven explained. “We just hired three more people, which we needed to do, but we are tripping over each other.”
She is still looking for one additional staff person, her own Chief Deputy.
Implementing the software and filling the Chief Deputy position are top priorities. Other goals include the next biennium budget for 2024-2025.
That process will begin in July with communication to all the department heads, working with a budget analysis and budget committee that will review and present their recommendations to the Council toward the end of the year.
The Council will then adopt the budget after making their changes.
‘I’m so happy to be here, on the island and in this office for the next four years. We are so lucky to step out our door and have the amazing beaches and trails,” Warmenhoven said.