Grays Harbor County Treasurer Ron Strabbing has the air of a calm man, even while in his office and on the job. His voice is soft and his movements are measured.
It’s the type of calm a person can only possess while on the job after an entire career of performing the job. And that’s where Strabbing is at this point — at the end of his career.
Strabbing announced his pending retirement last week in a letter to the Grays Harbor County commissioners.
“You know? Thirty-five years is a career. At least, that’s the way it feels to me. I reached that mark at little over a month ago on June 30. Now it’s time to retire,” Strabbing wrote in a casual tone in his letter to the commissioners.
That’s 35 years for a man who hadn’t much considered becoming county treasurer before he ran for the position.
“When I was in college I always thought that I’d like to run for a small office, and it seemed like maybe something to do or some small county stuff,” Strabbing told The Vidette in an Aug. 5 interview. “I fell into this and it turned out to be just kind of what I wanted to do. The county treasurer position was one of the most stable of all the elected officials, so that was something I looked at when I started.”
In the letter to the commissioners, Strabbing accounts for some of the time through the tenures of other elected officials.
“Seventeen, count ‘em, seventeen commissioners have come or gone since I started,” he wrote.
“That’s like five complete changeovers in the Board of County Commissioners, almost six, in the time I’ve been here,” Strabbing said.
Though Strabbing has served Grays Harbor County for 35 years, he’s not originally from here.
Strabbing is from Holland, Mich., a town he describes as geographically similar to Aberdeen. Holland is built along the shores of a freshwater lake that is connected via waterway to Lake Michigan, much like how Aberdeen is built along the Chehalis River and the harbor.
While Strabbing was in the Navy, he was stationed at Pacific Beach. There, he met his future wife, Betty, a Grays Harbor County girl. They were married in 1972. Strabbing finished his four years of military service in 1974, a 3rd class petty officer when he left the service.
Prior to taking on the treasurer’s position, Strabbing worked for Aiken and Sanders, an accounting firm in Aberdeen. He was in his early 30s when he first took office.
Some 44 years have passed since he and Betty were married, and 35 years since he was first elected. His term would have ended in 2018. While the county commissioners and other elected positions have seen contested races, Strabbing only was challenged in his first bid for office. Since then, he’s been unopposed.
“Probably because nobody else wanted the job,” Strabbing says.
In addition to the changing leadership throughout the county, his department has seen changes in technology which have streamlined the work.
“I’ve been able to take it from hand posting those payments, all the way to where we scan them and scan the checks and post all of that stuff electronically,” Strabbing said. “It used to take a month to get all those tax payments sorted and hand posted on those tax rolls, and now we can get that done in a less than a week.”
Things will continue to change, Strabbing said.
“The programs are all going to have to be switched out in the next four or five years — it’s going to be a big job for whoever takes over, and I’m just too tired to do it anymore,” he said.
While people may view the office as handling property taxes, that’s only one part of what the office handles, Strabbing said. The office also serves as the bank of the junior taxing districts, like the school district. The county treasurer also is the auctioneer when county foreclosures go up for auction at the end of the year. His office also oversees investments for the county and the junior taxing districts.
As for advice to the next person who will step into the position, Strabbing says, “There are 38 other people in this state who know how to do this job, and they are at your beck and call — pick up the phone.”
Strabbing said he often sends or receives emails from other auditors throughout the state about issues in their offices.
“The work that’s done in the Assessor’s Office, my office, the Auditor’s Office are primarily administering state statutes,” Strabbing said. “There’s very little county laws that we interact with.”
Strabbing will be 68 in October, and he says he’ll miss working with the staff and the challenges the job brings.
But he won’t miss the politics.
“I love sitting up here and working,” Strabbing said. “All the stuff that goes on around the periphery, I’d rather not deal with.”
Strabbing’s last day is Oct. 31. He and Betty plan to travel in retirement.
“I am humbled by the faith and trust the voters of Grays Harbor County have placed in me,” Strabbing wrote in his letter. “It has been my honor to serve this community.”
Corey Morris is editor of The Vidette.