Submitted by Deborah Lavery Powers

Staff Reporter

Janet Harris
Janet Harris

When asked what called her to accounting, Janet Harris answered, “I have always enjoyed the challenge of solving puzzles and the opportunity of putting the pieces together.”And that is what she does and has done for our city since joining the staff 15 years ago.

Figuring out how to make the financial puzzle pieces fit together is the challenge she and the entire Finance team faces every day.  And the delight in Janet’s eyes as she talks about her job makes you realize that she loves every minute of what she is doing.

I, myself,  come from a world where “bills that need to be paid” and “money we have to pay the bills” are much more familiar terms than “accounts payable” and ” accounts receivable, “so Janet had to do a little deciphering here and there regarding just what the terms she was using mean in my world.   But as far as her being a

supervisor, I had no trouble understanding that one!  

Janet is now a supervisor and has been  for  21 of her 29 work years.  She grew into those supervisory positions, starting out “doing the books” for her father’s business while she was still in high school.   A Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, and 14 years in the banking business came next.  During 10 of those banking years she was a supervisor. Then it was on to the Department of Finance in  Fernandina Beach.

The Finance Department’s major function is to account for all the monetary transactions of the City, and  provide reports of these transactions to the City Commission and City Manager.

In her 11 years as Accounting Supervisor for Fernandina Beach, Janet has worked with staff who do the payroll, processed most of the money that comes into the City coffers, and written all of the outgoing checks.  And balanced the books.  The City has an established purchasing policy and every expenditure is monitored to be sure it is in compliance with that policy.    

While the head of a household only deals with his/her nuclear family’s budget, Janet’s staff works with a “family” made up of 22 departments, 7 enterprise funds  (the golf course, marina and airport being three of them), 3 Internal Service departments (the City Garage is one), as well as approximately 215 full and part time City employees. 

Creating a budget to cover all the requirements and needs of our City’s departments, enterprise funds and employees involves a staggering amount of work.  The budget process begins in January, and has to be approved by the City Commission by the end of September.   Janet’s role in this process involves assisting the  Controller and  City Manager —  providing estimates for expenditures such as liability insurance, health insurance, the pension plan and Workers Comp insurance. She also provides estimates on revenues the City envisions coming in during the budget year — to include Federal, State and County grants and State shared revenues including sales and fuel taxes.  Working on the  approximately $93,000,000 budget for year 2013-2014 will involve Janet attending many workshops and other meetings between now and the time the budget is approved.

Janet also assists the Controller and City Manager when it comes to the City’s millage rates.  Millage rates, in simple terms, are the rate used to calculate how much tax you will owe on your property.    The City Commission sets the rates, but the process involves working with the State  — and submitting forms to the Property Appraiser and Tax Collector — all within a specific time table called the TRIM Calendar.  These deadlines must be met to ensure compliance.

Another aspect of Janet’s job involves the City’s insurance policies — and there are a multitude of them issued or renewed on our vehicles, equipment and property each year!  And she smiles as she mentions the mountain of detail involved regarding each one.    There’s the applications.  And then there are the renewal schedules which must be constantly monitored and verified – which sounds like a pretty straight forward process in this era of computer programs until one factors in the amount of time involved!    And even the smallest incident has to be reported, processed, followed-up and then closed after the “puzzle pieces” are all squarely in place.

There is also the City’s year-end audit.  A large number of work papers and schedules must be prepared after the fiscal year ends. The Financial reports come in and Janet helps the Controller review every detail and prepare additional schedules, as appropriate.

Janet’s job description indicates she is required to have a valid driver’s license.  Another smile crosses her face as she notes she doesn’t get to use that required license very much on the job.  She spends most of her time in front of the two large windows in her office at the Peck Center.  As an aside,  she adds, “We love being here.  We outgrew our previous office space, and it was a great move for us to come to the Peck Center, and I think its good for the city to have a presence here, too.”   For those who haven’t visited our Finance Staff, the Peck Center in which they work was the former William Henderson Peck High School.  It was built at a time (1928) of high ceilings and tall windows, so the current city offices in that building are bright and cherry places to work.  

Janet may not get out much during her work week, but she does on the weekends!  One of her favorite pastimes is walking the family’s German short haired pointer.  “Jake” is a great workout partner – – so “full of energy.”  And then there’s the Jaguars!  Regarding their current records she just pauses, looks, and says, “But, there’s always next year!”  She and her family have been season ticket holders “since day one” and plan to stay so.

Janet wanted us to know that, “Under Patti Clifford, we have such a great team here in Finance.  It takes a lot to do what is required of us, but we all are very flexible and willing to pitch in wherever needed.  We all do whatever it takes to get the job done — and that makes it possible for us all to feel successful in the way we serve the citizens and employees of the City.”

Editor’s Note: After a career in adult education, where writing, course design and development were her “beat”, Deborah is now enjoying the world of freelancing. And volunteering. We thank Deborah  for her contributions.

February 4, 2013

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