Tooele County Commissioners’ plan to merge four county offices into two is expected to save taxpayers $190,000 a year.In sharp contrast to the secrecy that has veiled the commissioners’ consolidation plan since it was announced on Dec. 3, Commissioner Shawn Milne opened a new Facebook page Monday and posted details of the plan, including estimated cost savings.
Milne’s disclosure came 28 hours before a scheduled public hearing on the plan at 7 p.m. tonight in the county building. The commissioners are also scheduled to vote after the public hearing on whether or not to combine the auditor and clerk offices, and the surveyor and recorder offices.
“I firmly believe that it is in the best interest to disseminate the information that has been the basis of our contemplation,” wrote Milne on his Facebook page.
He added, “Whether for the sake of transparency or just good public policy, I believe that the information gathered during these past several months is objective and worth presenting to the public for your careful consideration.”
The commissioners expect the consolidation of the county clerk with the county auditor will produce a gross savings of $180,500 per year as the result of eliminating the salary and benefits of one elected official and one chief deputy.
The combined clerk/auditor office will be led by one elected official and a chief deputy. The duties of the chief deputy will be defined by the elected clerk/auditor, according to Milne.
Also according to him, all other staff members of the two offices will remain intact.
The elimination of a separate elected county surveyor’s office will lead to a gross savings of $57,200 per year by the elimination of salary and wages of the part-time elected surveyor and a part-time employee.
Consolidation of travel and training expenses for the offices will result in an annual savings of $2,800, making the total gross savings $240,500.
However, the consolidation would also require a $20,000 increase in expenses for an annual external audit; an additional $25,000 for contracted surveying work; and a contingency amount of $5,500 to cover unexpected expenses.
The net annual savings will be closer to $190,000, according to Milne.
“The commission acknowledges that our numbers are approximations and that the final outcome of our proposal will be largely dependent upon the skills, talents, and priorities of those officials elected during the coming year,” reads Milne’s Facebook entry.
In an interview after posting the consolidation details, Milne added that upcoming changes to the county auditor’s duties in 2015, which have already been approved by the state legislature, make combining the auditor’s office more practicable.
Currently, the county auditor has three main duties. According to current state code the auditor is the county’s accountant, budget officer, and internal auditor.
Beginning in 2015 the state legislature allows county commissions across Utah the authority to select or appoint a budget officer. The new legislation also allows for the delegation of accounting services.
The auditor retains his role as the internal financial auditor and is also given the authority, under the direction of the county commission, to perform performance audits of county entities to review procedures, activities, or policies, and determine whether the county is achieving the best levels of economy, efficiency, effectiveness, and compliance.
For the last month, Tooele County Commissioners have held their cards close to their chest whenever discussing their plan to consolidate county elected official duties.
Prior to Milne’s Facebook post, the commissioners had not elaborated on their consolidation plan beyond an initial statement by Commission Chairman Bruce Clegg that the consolidation would save money and create efficiencies within the offices to help them to better serve the public.
Milne’s decision to divulge the details of the commissioners’ consolidation plan is counter to the stand the commission took at last Thursday’s Tooele County Council of Governments meeting.
At that COG meeting all three commissioners remained silent as mayors and city council members pleaded with the commissioners to divulge the details of their plan so they could make informed comments on it.
Grantsville Mayor Brent Marshall, who serves as chairman of COG, expressed disappointment that the commissioners were unwilling to present more details of their consolidation plan at COG.
“I thought we could work together and do some brainstorming on the plan, but without details, we can’t really do that,” he said.
Scott Wardle, who is vice-chairman of the Tooele City Council, said the lack of detail provided by the commissioners at the COG meeting made meaningful discourse difficult.
“We have not seen the proposal,” he said. “How are we to judge the effectiveness of something we have not seen?”
Stockton Mayor Mark Whitney did not favor the proposal to combine the offices.
“I worry about the perception,” he said. “This is one more item we are going to do that doesn’t project a positive image of the county. This will be a tough one.”
However, state law gives the county commission the authority to consolidate county offices without a public hearing, approval of COG, or a vote by citizens.
“It is really an administrative decision for the commissioners to make,” said Clegg. “Although we are not required to hold a public hearing, we will hold a hearing on Tuesday night. We will address concerns about the details of the plan on Tuesday night before the hearing.”
State law requires that any ordinance consolidating or separating county offices must be enacted by Feb. 1 of the year in which county officers are elected and take effect on the first Monday of January in the following year.
If the commission passes the ordinance to combine offices, it will take effect in 2015, setting the stage for a clerk/auditor and recorder/surveyor race this fall.
The public hearing on the consolidation is scheduled during tonight’s county commission meeting at 7 p.m. in room 321 at the county building.