Dollars and sense
The city’s finance director talks practicality, his life story, and his duties for the city
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — Marshfield City Finance Director Keith Strey has always been a man with a plan, which explains why he spent his early adult years on an attack submarine.
Growing up in Spencer, Strey’s family lived through an economic downturn — the plant his father worked at was in the process of shutting down — and people were fighting for any job available. Analytical by nature, Strey knew he lacked a firm idea of what he wanted to do in college and that he could waste plenty of money trying to figure it out while enrolled.
He thought it better to join the Navy, save money, and think more about what he truly wanted to do before pursuing a degree.
“My dad was in the navy. That kind of got me going that route,” Strey said. “The practical side of me said, ‘Well, I really don’t know 100 percent what I want to do, and I don’t want to spend that kind of money (on college) if I’m not sure.’”
Strey spent the summer of 1984, May-October, deployed on a submarine in the Mediterranean Sea. In 1986 his unit was deployed in the Western Pacific. While on the submarine, he was the sonar technician, or as he called it the “eyes of the ship.”
Eventually Strey decided that Navy lifestyle was not conducive to starting a family. He eloped with his now wife Kris, who is from Stratford, in 1986, left the Navy in 1991, and earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting from Saint Cloud State in 1993.
Strey and his wife did not anticipate coming back to central Wisconsin, but he ended up getting his first job at a CPA firm in Wausau in 1993. He then moved to the Marathon County United Way as IT and finance director and following that worked briefly for Wipfli.
He then joined the city of Marshfield as an accountant in 1998 and became the finance director in 2001.
Strey said he likes working for the city, in part, because he feels like he is working for people instead of profit.
“When I’ve worked in the private sector, … it just felt like I was making money for somebody else, and government nonprofit kind of intrigues me because if I do my job right, even though it’s kind of behind the scenes, it’s helping a community,” Strey said.
He added that one of the most important things he wants out of his job is to continue to be challenged.
“For me personally, I like to get into different things. That’s kind of how I’m motivated is if I get where I’m feeling like I’m doing the same thing over and over and over, … I’m going to lose motivation,” Strey said.
Challenges of Strey’s daily obligations include overseeing financial reporting and accounting, coordinating nonemployee insurance policies, and playing a large role in putting together the city’s yearly budget.
Working on the 2016 budget, Strey said, was “the most challenging in my career here.” Much of the difficulty was due to the city’s desire to be eligible for state funds through the expenditure restraint program, which rewards municipalities for limiting growth in spending.
Strey said that overall Marshfield is in a “solid” financial position. One of the biggest challenges the city faces, Strey said, is paying for the wants and needs of citizens with limits on how much taxes can be raised and how much taxation citizens will tolerate. He said with taxation limitations, public-private funding partnerships — like those that made the new library and bear exhibit realities — will be key.
“Basically our state-shared revenues have been flat to slightly declining,” Strey said.
Strey also spends time outside of work giving back to the community.
“When I moved away and then came back, I started realizing Marshfield has a lot more to offer than really I thought,” Strey said, adding that he has enjoyed working on the boards of Marshfield Area United Way and the Marshfield Area Community Foundation.
“Then you bring in the family ties and being from the area, that’s rewarding too,” he said.