Sibbersen served county 40 years in taxing position

Wood County Auditor Mike Sibbersen at his desk

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN

BG Independent News

 

Mike Sibbersen started out at the Wood County Auditor’s Office in a summer job, testing local gas pumps and checking store scales for accuracy.

“I remember doing Beeker’s” general store in Pemberville where the scales weighed penny candy.

At the end of the summer, Sibbersen was offered two jobs – one teaching and one continuing at the auditor’s office. He took the latter.

That was 40 years ago.

For the last 24 of those years, Sibbersen has been county auditor – the tax man some people love to hate.

“The news you have to convey is not always what people want to hear,” he said.

In many ways Sibbersen is the opposite of his predecessor, Harold Bateson, who was boisterous and often confrontational. Sibbersen is measured, certain and exact – on everything from numbers to words.

“I have the reputation around here of being a frustrated editor,” he said. “Words are important.”

The job has changed a great deal in the past four decades – much of it due to technology and revisions in tax law. When Sibbersen started, in addition to checking weights and measures, he also had to inventory lock boxes of deceased residents for the Department of Taxation.

“When I came here, we were still doing personal property tax,” that has been phased out by the state, he said.

Now the office inspects all the store checkout scanners in the county to make sure they are accurate. They also have to be on the alert for credit card skimmers.

The staff has dropped from 26 to 22 during his time in the auditor’s office. It’s not that the responsibilities are fewer. “Technology has enabled us to do that,” Sibbersen said.

The Wood County Auditor’s Office was the first in Northwest Ohio to start selling dog licenses online. “Now everybody’s doing it,” he said.

And now citizens are likely to turn to the office’s website before calling in with questions. But the complaints still come in from people upset or confused about their taxes.

“It’s stressful for a variety of reasons. You have to convey information that is sometimes a struggle to make clear and understandable,” Sibbersen said.

Just explaining how a tax bill is calculated can be incredibly complicated.

“It’s a challenge,” he said. “The bar of explanation becomes that much higher.”

Sibbersen said he has often reminded his staff not to take the complaints personally. It’s just that the county auditor’s office is much more accessible than other levels of government.

“We’re the ones they can get to,” he said.

And that’s just fine with Sibbersen.

“I’ve always believed in service to the public,” he said.

Sibbersen did recall a particularly embarrassing mistake that occurred years ago, before he became county auditor. The IRS had redesigned the W-2 forms, but the auditor’s office did not change the “X” it marked in the box from the previous forms.

“We sent out the W-2s with everyone marked deceased,” he said.

After four decades with the county, Sibbersen has gained a reputation of being steadfast.

Former Wood County commissioner Jim Carter said Sibbersen is the go-to guy for governmental history.

“Mike is always the one you want to go to if you want any historical information on county government,” he said.

Carter thought a moment, then added that Sibbersen’s knowledge goes far beyond local government.

“I think he could tell you all the presidents in order, and probably their wives,” Carter said.

Sibbersen, he said, has a wealth of knowledge that he is always trying to expand.

“He has a book collection that rivals the library,” Carter said. “He’s always eager to learn more.”

State Senator Randy Gardner commended Sibbersen for his commitment to the public.

“I am not aware of any elected official who has carried out his responsibilities in a more genuine, earnest and trustworthy manner than Mike Sibbersen. His dedication to serving the public has been unmatched,” Gardner said.

Former county commissioner Tim Brown said he first met Sibbersen when the two of them and Gardner were in the Young Republicans organization.

“We all had an interest in public service,” Brown said. “I’ve worked with a lot of public servants over the years, and he is one of the most profoundly dedicated.”

Honesty has always been Sibbersen’s policy, Brown said. “He takes very seriously the public’s trust. He’s a top notch example of a servant for the public.”

Andrew Kalmar has worked with Sibbersen for nearly 29 years, first as county park district director and now as county administrator.

“Mike’s always been a very steady hand,” he said. “You could talk to him about almost anything, and he would provide good guidance.”

Over the years, Kalmar would often turn to Sibbersen for his counsel on county matters. “I trust him implicitly.”

Sibbersen, of course, reserves his praise for his staff, including Karen Young as chief deputy and Matt Oestrich as assistant chief deputy. It will be up to the county commissioners to appoint a replacement, then the Republican Central Committee will name someone to fill in until the position is on the ballot in the fall of 2018.

“I very much value what they do for me and what they do for the citizens of Wood County,” Sibbersen said of his staff.

But Sibbersen will definitely be missed, according to Gardner.

“The auditor’s office will continue to be professionally and competently managed, because Mike knows how important it is to assemble good people around you in that kind of office,” Gardner said. “He fulfilled that supportive role under Harold Bateson and became an award-winning auditor and one of the best county auditors in Ohio because he had the right kind of training first. Still, county government won’t be the same without Mike.”

Sibbersen has some loose plans for his retirement – which do not include moving from Bowling Green.

“There are things I would like to do,” with many of them right here in Wood County. “I’m very rooted. I’m not going anywhere.”

He plans to spend more time on his long-time commitments to the Wood County Historical Society and Wood County Genealogical Society. And of course, read more. Eventually, he would like to travel to Germany, where his family’s roots lead.

A retirement reception will be held for Sibbersen on Thursday, Sept. 28, starting at 3:30 p.m., in the Wood County Courthouse Atrium. A program will be held at 4:30 p.m. The public is invited.

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