When Sharon Wojda first joined the City of Bend's finance department more than a decade ago, Facebook was just being born, President George W. Bush was finishing his first term, and Bend was three-quarters its current size. Starting in 2004 as staff accountant, Wojda was named the permanent finance director for the City in November. Wojda served in an interim capacity following the departure of the City's former chief financial officer, Sonia Andrews.
We asked Wojda about what her job—one of the highest paid at the City—entails, the biggest financial challenges facing Bend, and just how she wound up doing municipal money management.
Source Weekly: First things first. What exactly do you do?
Sharon Wojda: The finance director is the city manager's principal executive for financial planning and management of the City's finances. I oversee the preparation of the City's biennial budget and annual audited financial statements as well as other finance department operations including accounting and financial reporting to City Council and the public, payroll, accounts payable, billing and collection, utility customer service, investments, debt management, and municipal court operations. Along with the city manager, I represent the City on financial matters to banks, bond investors, rating agencies, and the like.
SW: For people who don't geek out over numbers, a career in finance can seem inconceivable. What inspired you?
ShW: While my job is obviously very numbers focused, I'm not a total numbers geek. My job is more about using the numbers to tell a story and share data that supports recommendations and decisions made by the city manager, other City departments and the City Council. I don't have the personality of a stereotypical accountant—at least that's what I like to think. I am very much a people person and have always gravitated to jobs that allow me to operate in more of a consultative role that gives me the best of both worlds—people and numbers.
ShW: Why did you choose to work in the public sector, rather than the private sector?
SW: My work at the City of Bend has been the most rewarding and most challenging of my career. I love knowing that the decisions I make on a daily basis are contributing to the success of my community and fellow citizens. The City of Bend is the first government agency I have worked for and has given me a passion for public service.
SW: What projects are you most interested in working on?
ShW: The City's core financial operating system is almost 25 years old (and no, that is not a typo). We are on the verge of replacing that software program with a new enterprise system that will dramatically improve financial reporting and transparency, modernize our processes, and create efficiencies. When fully implemented, the new operating system will also have a robust citizen self-service component that will allow citizens to manage their accounts and easily view and pay their bills online. It's going to be a lot of work over the next three years, but I am really excited for the opportunities and improvements that will come from the new system.
SW: What is the most challenging part of your job?
ShW: The City provides over 20 different operations and programs to the citizens of Bend, all with differing priorities, focus areas, and funding sources. For example, the City provides fire and police protection thanks mostly to property taxes, while we provide drinking water and sewer services through the collection of utility rates. The challenge of not just my position, but anyone on the City's management team, is to work with the City Council to balance the prioritization of these programs with the limited funding available.
SW: What are the biggest financial challenges currently facing the City? ShW: The City has one of the lowest property tax rates in the state. The low permanent tax rate along with the other limitations on raising revenues, especially in the General Fund, is one of the biggest challenges facing the City. The General Fund is used to fund police, fire, street operations, and other city services, and without additional revenues, our ability to increase and/or expand services is limited.