Camas' finance director is retiring after 24 years

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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Camas will bid farewell at the end of the month to its longest-serving employee.

Joan Durgin, the city's finance director, will retire Friday. A 24-year veteran of the city, Durgin balanced Camas' books during a period of rapid growth.

In her time with the city, the population increased from around 6,700 to nearly 20,000. During that boom, underscored by Camas' transformation from a mill town to a hub of high-tech businesses, the city's budget evolved, as departments grew and finances became more complicated.

"It's a big deal, helping a city that grows that fast," said Mayor Scott Higgins, who expressed mixed emotions about Durgin's retirement.

The city has big shoes to fill, he said.

Durgin has been one of two constants for Camas in the past couple of decades, since the city moved to an administrator-council form of government in 1989. The other was former City Administrator Lloyd Halverson -- also hired in 1989, two weeks before Durgin -- who retired as city administrator in June 2012.

Even in retirement, Halverson was assisting Camas on special projects. He came off the city's books for good at the beginning of the month.

Camas has hired Cathy Huber Nickerson, Battle Ground's finance director, to replace Durgin. She will start working for Camas July 8, the city says.

The role of finance director was never dull, said Durgin, a bona fide accounting aficionado.

She came to the city following a 10-year stint with the Washington State Auditor's Office.

"I was looking for a change," Durgin said of the transition. "The state auditor was really focused at that time on auditing federal grants, and he wasn't focused on accounting records or financial statements."

During her years with the city, budgeting challenges have arisen, Durgin acknowledged. One of the biggest came in 1997 in the form of Referendum 47, which said property taxes couldn't increase by more than the rate of inflation.

During recessions, that constrains the city's budget, Durgin said.

In recent years, there have been expensive infrastructure projects the city has undertaken. They include upgrades to the city's wastewater treatment plant, an ongoing project.

The city may have another year of tight revenue, Durgin said. But she's confident her replacement will have the skills to fill her shoes.

"I think everyone is replaceable," she said. "I think there are some bright people out there who can take over."


Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities; tyler.graf@columbian.com.